Never mind Electric Wizard, Loop, and Spacemen 3, where would we be without The Heads? Even if you’ve never heard them, you’ve heard a hundred bands who have. They recorded sessions for John Peel and Mark Radcliffe, released early records on Man’s Ruin, and toured the West Coast of the States, playing with a who’s who of stoner and psychedelic bands. Their influence spreads through the underground like the invisible tentacles of a massive pulsating mind-octopus. They have just re-released their second album (‘Everybody Knows We Got Nowhere’) and they are also set to devastate an appreciative and decidedly international crowd at Roadburn 2015, where they have been announced as artists in residence. Indeed, it appears that Bristol’s hippest & trippiest are going through a well deserved and long overdue process of re-evaluation. I fired a few pertinent questions over to bassist Hugo Owen Morgan in order to find out the lowdown on what makes this legendary psychedelic outfit tick.
Tell me where you are right now and what you can see?
I’m where I live, sat down trying to write this interview that I promised you’d have a week ago. I can see a table, clutter, posters and walls.
You’ve just re-released your sophomore album ‘Everybody Knows We Got Nowhere’. Why did you choose this album in particular, bearing in mind that you have such an extensive back catalogue (approximately twenty albums)?
We’re going through our back catalogue re-releasing it in chronological order. Relaxing we did a few years back, so Everybody was the next to do.
We’ve only done four albums really, these being conceived and written as an album, then recorded as an album. (Relaxing, Everybody, Undersided and Under the Stress.). Then a few live albums, the rest of the 15 odd albums are more out takes, jams and demos of tracks that never made it to official albums.
The rights to the Cargo (Headhunter UK and Sweet Nothing labels) have reverted back to us so we’re able to issue them again on LP/CD and digitally expanded with singles and radio sessions for fans to get a better overview of where we were coming from at the time. Also for more recent fans not having to spend a fortune on our earlier material. Although the boxset will cost a lot, it is two double albums, a single album, out take CD, download and lots of other goodies, if you bought them separately you’d be paying around the same amount and it is also available as originally released, double vinyl, double expanded CD and an out take double vinyl.
When you formed The Heads, were there any bands and artists that you all shared a communal love of?
When Simon asked me if I wanted to play bass in a new band with him and Dave Spencer, both from the Spasmodics, I was in an indie band Quinton and was playing bass with Wayne in Soundhouse. Quinton was very Undertones based, Soundhouse Husker Du, Mission of Burma style.
Simon worked in Replay (where I eventually ended up working) the cooler record shop in Bristol, I worked in HMV so would regularly be in Replay getting imports which I couldn’t get in HMV. When I joined, Dinosaur Jr. (Lou Barlows bass playing especially was a big influence) Loop, 60’s fuzz garage and some grunge like Mudhoney, we’re the common influences Simon and me had.
After initial jamming with Simon, Dave and the first drummer Mel, it was obvious you could hear a Hawkwind influence along with Dave’s Hillage style delay. We did one gig supporting Babes In Toyland and then Mel left, Wayne stepped in on drum duties for our next gig with Swervedriver and took things up quite a few notch’s, still 10 minute jams though. We did a six track cassette demo, Dave left shortly afterwards, Jim joined for a couple of gigs and then Paul joined. From what I remember Paul was more into his classic rock like Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple etc., the rest of us were blown away when he pulled these classic riffs out in rehearsal, hence his nickname Rock Proff.
We were all avid record collectors and seekers of new exciting sounds, I’ve learnt of so many bands through knowing the rest of the band and our friends, I was in my early 20’s and would regularly have my mind blown by the likes of Sweet Smoke, Cluster and other obscure 60’s/70’s guitar based rock. The one common influence was the fuzzier and dirtier the better.
Have you ever felt close to any one ‘scene’ or genre in particular? If the answer is no, then why?
No. When we started it was around the time of ‘Bristol Sound’, ‘Trip Hop’ and the emergence of ‘Brit Pop’ which we were obviously not about. It also was a kick in the teeth when the Talking Heads reformed without David Byrne and called themselves the Heads just as Relaxing With… had been released. We’d play gigs in London and venues would say they’d been getting phone calls to see if Shaun Ryder would be doing guest vocals!
Peel was championing Flying Saucer Attack at Bristol Sound City in 94, we were too cock rock for that (though Keeler got us played on his show and eventually we ended up doing 3 sessions for John Peel ). Although we weren’t aware of it, the Desert scene was taking off but we weren’t cock rock enough for that. We did feel some affinity with Monster Magnet, especially Tab and Spine Of God.
Radcliffe took the piss out of us when we did a session with him for not having beards, tattoo’s or looking like big burly bikers as he assumed we would considering the racket we made. We were likened in one live review when we supported Killdozer as looking like librarians, but the sound coming out of the speakers felt like elephants jack booting over the audience.
We knew we liked our own sound and tried to expand on it playing to each members strengths, rather than pander to any scene, to me that would’ve just diluted the Heads. We just ploughed our own furrow, if people got it, great, if not we were enjoying playing it.
Out of your many albums, which is your personal favourite and why?
Everybody. Relaxing was done at Foel studios with Corin Dingly engineering, which was great fun but when we saw how much it cost, we thought for the next album we could buy our own rudimentary equipment, meaning we could also record new tracks for compilations too instead of going cap in hand to Cargo to pay for recording when we’d see no return. We’d also discovered the power of mastering from Shawn Joseph, now at Optimum, great for rolling that turd in glitter, turning something very lo-fi into something more ass kicking. So we got a basic 8 track set up with 1″ reel to reel tape, mics and mic stands and recorded as we went.
It had its limitations, so did our knowledge of how to record, but we tried to push it as far as we could. Some of the album is pretty lo-fi but it was capturing moments that would become stale trying to recreate them later to record. We were also fed up of being told you can’t do that by engineers in proper studios, we wanted sounds in the red, really over driven, saturated and out there, it gave us the chance to experiment sonically.
It did however mean it took about five years to sort out. Cargo wanted to know when they were going to get a new album and although in question 2 I said it was a ‘proper’ album, it was a bit cobbled together with finished tracks and jams of which the best were chosen to make a full flowing album. Think we all felt it was a much better representation of what the Heads were about, also our first double gatefold album with great artwork from Johnny ‘O and Simon. I was very proud when it came out.
For me ‘At Last’ is another favourite, which more or less is a live studio album but has the best bass sound probably as I was the only one who bothered to turn up for the mix.
Would you please outline some of your most memorable moments from your legendary West Coast tour of USA?
Great to get to know Eddie, Mark and Rueben of Nebula, also their road crew Luke Trimmer and Jason along with Todd their agent. Going to the Sub Pop offices. Playing with Monkey Wrench, High On Fire, Acid King. Hanging back stage with John Garcia and Unida at the Troubadour in LA. Jello Biafra head banging to our set at the Maratime Hall in San Francisco. Driving through redwood forests and past Altamont. Bible burning on the 30th floor of a hotel, forgetting they don’t have ground floors in America. $3 t-bone steaks, trucker speed, mad drinking laws, most of all great to go to the States and meet like-minded people who appreciated what we were doing musically.
Whose personal support has really counted to you in the last 24 years and why?
Without a doubt Simon Keeler who’s believed in us since he first heard us and still does. Everyone who’s bought our records, come to our gigs, let us sleep on their floors, fed us on tour and promoters who’ve stuck their necks on the line and put us on, especially Walter at Roadburn. Fat Paul, Latch, Simon Healey, Johnny ‘O and Chris Reeder who’ve helped us along our way, usually for free. Also people who’ve played us on national and international radio or written about us, Hakan Peerson, Valice, Rocksanne Trainwreck, Mark Radcliffe and of course the late great John Peel. Not forgetting all the nice people that have written favourably about us.
To what extent has the culture of your home city influenced who you are and the music you make?
Like most large cities outside of London you don’t feel the pull to be Londoncentric and get wrapped up in following the latest trends going on there, which has given us more freedom musically, perhaps not in recognition or monetarily, but we were never about that. Bristol is small enough that you get to know a lot of people doing music in other genres so you get a good cross pollination of ideas. I guess you could say that the more extreme drum and bass might have had a bit of an influence on the repetitive nature of some of our tracks. Wouldn’t have said there are any other bands that have influenced us directly though.
Bristol Police seem to have quite a laid back attitude to weed, which meant we smoked too much of it and everything thing took twice as long to get done than it should have.
What do you think of the scene in Bristol today? Is it just as exciting or inspiring as it was in the nineties?
It’s much more exciting than the 90’s. Places like the Exchange, Stag and Hounds, The Island and The Cube are putting on interesting music as well as promoters like Cacophonous Sarcophagus, Zam Zam Rec, You’re Not Human and Francis at Temples, who not only uses the normal live venues in Bristol but are also on the lookout for more interesting venues like chapels and morgues.
In the 90’s you’d have to travel out of Bristol to see the acts that they put on, to me then it seemed like profit was the bottom line for promoters in the most part. At the moment I don’t think Bristol has been as diverse since the late 80’s early 90’s.
There is usually something of worth going to on every night at some small venue with either local, national or international acts. Unfortunately for the plentiful local bands a new culture of free gigs has arisen, meaning most play for free, good for the punter, venue and breweries, not so good for the band..
The 90’s was also very dance orientated here. Although I did listen to quite a bit of drum and bass, however trying to be taken seriously then in a guitar band was difficult, especially if you didn’t incorporate some sort of dance element.
What kind of music are you listening to at the moment? Any recommendations for our readers out there?
Don’t get to hear half as much music as I used to when I worked in Replay records. Now I’m doing Loop, Kandodo 3, Pohl and the Heads, rehearsing 3-4 times a week, editing, recording as well as the day job, most of my music time rotates around the bands I’m in, listening, learning bass lines and coming up with new ideas.
Playing out with Pohl quite a bit and have seen a few live bands that have been good, Working Man’s Noise Unit, Henry Blacker, Hey Colossus, Broken DC, Spider Kitten and Part Chimp. Enjoyed the Slomatics album you sent me too.
Looking at the recently played on iTunes it ranges from 3rd Bass, Quakers, Skullflower, Duke Ellington, ZZ Top (early) Pussy Galore, Wire, Public Image, Harvey Milk, Johnny Clarke, Galaxie 500, Bert Jansch and Charlie Haden, to name a few. Also just re-watched Charlie Mingus in Greenwich Village, a great documentary.
How do you feel about playing the Roadburn festival again?
Overjoyed ! It was a big shame it didn’t work out with John Mcbain this year, that would’ve been a career highlight for us. John’s playing on Tab and Spine Of God was a major influence. Hopefully we should have a Heads record out with him playing, as well as editing and mastering it, by the time we play at Roadburn in 2015.
For Walter to ask us again to be Artist in Residence a year later with Paul back on lead guitar duties was out of the blue and shows in what high esteem he puts the Heads, which is very humbling.
Also Kandodo 3 and Anthroprophh will be playing as well as a Heads set and jam off with a yet to be announced artist. Would love for Pohl to play there too but you can’t have everything.
Any new recordings planned from The Heads?
Apart from the fore mentioned album with John Mcbain there’s nothing else. Kandodo 3 have a new double in the pipeline and Paul has just released Anthroprophh’s ‘Outside the Circle’. Everyone is busy with life and their own musical projects, so as for another Heads album with Paul, seems unlikely, perhaps after Roadburn something might happen, you never know.
What other things influence you as a band and as individuals, including the obvious stuff like books and films?
Can’t really speak for the others too much but in general late 60’s counter culture, tripped out movies, Herman Hesse, HP Lovecraft, grimey UK 70’s and 80’s culture and urban decay, DIY ethos, nature, boredom, depression and pessimism.
The Shaman is fanatical about classic motorcycle racing and is eager to know what sample was used on the track ‘Motorjam’ as he’s convinced they’re 350 and/or 500 singles? I really do hope he’s wrong but please tell, if you know.
The sample is taken from a Speedway meeting. Have no idea what CC the engine is. Either field recorded at Swindon or Exeter watching the Exeter Falcons. Wayne’s a big fan and I went to a few too, that’s the reason there’s a Speedway rider on the ‘Relaxing With’ label.
We used to be really sad and use the Speedway scoring system and names of famous riders playing mammoth pinball sessions in our local pub the Cadbury, just down from the Heads infamous house. Wayne still has all the score sheets somewhere.
Everyone Knows That We Got Nowhere Reissue is out now on Rooster Records and you can also read Adam’s review here.
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Interviewed by: Adam Stone