The Wounded Kings have cut out a unique niche for themselves as masters of the UK underground doom scene. Steve Mills, leading exponent and founding member of the band has managed to navigate his vision through troublesome times. Where many would have balked at the problems, he has had to endure favouring retirement over perseverance, Steve has found a way to remain upbeat and optimistic about the future. Not that these troubles have been reflected in the band’s popularity, from being invited to play the Barbican in 2011, to kicking out the jam at Roadburn in 2010. This is a band and a man that has managed to rise above the crowd in a stellar quest to reach the top of his game. With a vision that seems to have surpassed the temporary nature of the band’s transitory members, Steve has managed land in the last year a deal with I Hate Records, has done a split with Cough, as well as pulling together a whole new crew to man the doom soaked haunted moor machine that are The Wounded Kings.
I caught up with Steve for this interview at a frustrating time, having just turned down a support slot with Pentagram as well as two other shows in London due to the lack of a vocalist. This took place after the crushing news by Steve in the Mid-term of 2010 that his whole band would be leaving him. Luke the bass player returned to his principal focus, preparing to be a first- time father, George the vocalist decided he wanted to focus on developing his own music, and Nick the drummer moved to Canada with his wife. Lets face it, for Steve at least, the situation looked pretty shit. Intending to end this chapter of the band with a regal farewell European tour in October 2010, Steve was once again placed on the throne to inform the expectant crowds that the tour had been cancelled because Nick had broken his wrist. Tragedy pursued him wherever he went. It certainly looked like the band would end on a whimper rather than a roar. So how were you feeling about all this at the time, and how did you manage to come to terms with the inevitable loss of such accomplished musicians?
Pete, if I said the situation at the time was dire, then that would have been an understatement, fuck, thinking back on it, it was absolutely abysmal. I remember going round to George’s about a month after we’d done Roadburn (I was still on a natural high from the whole experience) and finding George a bit distant, I could tell he was wrestling with telling me something but I never imagined it would be to tell me he’d had enough, we’d just done Roadburn for Christ sakes!!!! Basically he felt he’d gone about as far as he’d ever dreamed of and wanted to bow out on a high, he wanted to get back to creating his own thing which is a rather different beast to the doom of the Kings, however he agreed to stay until the end of the year to honour all our commitments and you can’t ask for more than that! As you can imagine after Roadburn things began to step up for us and come October we had a string of dates lined up in Europe it was going to be this fuckin’ great Wounded Kings last road trip, really fuckin destroy minds at every show before we went our separate ways – WRONG! Nick broke his bloody hand doing some mountain bike bullshit and that was it! It turned out ironically that our last ever gig as the original line-up was at Doom over London at The Gaff which is where we had our first ever gig so we started and finished it there, fitting really! We are all still great friends and they were the best and most hilarious times I’ve ever had playing in a band, standing up there knowing your band mates have got your back and they are so fuckin awesome at what they do, who could want more eh?
Never one to be held back Steve immediately set about looking for new members. Can you tell us how the search is going? Have you had any luck finding someone to fill the vocal chords of George who brought such a unique style to the band?
It’s taken quite a while to find someone to fill George’s shoes, in fact it was way easier finding the other guys, there was this doom band down in Plymouth and I basically asked them if they wanted to join the Kings, amazingly they were fans of the band and jumped straight in, they are all stand up people! As for our drummer Mike he is best mates with Nick our old drummer, they used to run a drum shop together and share a lot of the same qualities in the way they play. The vocals though, shit that was tough, I started out trying to find someone who sounded similar to George, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that wasn’t going to happen, I auditioned a few people but it just didn’t feel right, and then Sharie came along, she fuckin lives just down the road from me, right under my nose! and man, she can really sing, very dynamic, again to my ears there isn’t any female singer in doom who sounds like her, haunting yet dangerous, a real find!
As with so many bands each release is an extension of its origin and marks a progressive evolutionary existential state of being. In what way would you describe the development of the band from its inception? Explain this development with respect to Embrace of the Narrow House and then The Shadow over Atlantis?
Embrace was as real labour of love, I’d had so many riffs going around that I had to get them all out in one album, it was 10 yrs in the making and was the album that I learned how to record with. George and myself were getting used to working together and we just threw everything at it and hoped it’d all fit together in the end. I was just so stoked to be able to finally get this shit down that the fuckin flood gates opened anything goes is the vibe for Embrace! Shadow on the other hand was a conscious decision to create a concept album, this one I really thought out, right down to the bleak vibe that runs all the way through it, also I felt I was getting better at the recording process, by then George and myself were beginning to understand each other a lot more and I knew what to write to compliment his vocal style, I was really aiming for atmosphere with this one. To me it’s a more complete album than Embrace which is more a quirky collection of eccentric doom!
Upon first hearing The Wounded Kings I was left with the impression, more than any other band, how quintessentially English the band sounded, and if there was a definition of English doom then it was to be found in the material you had written. I wonder what your terrestrial influences are and whether you see any affiliation between yourself and the ancient countryside of the West Country?
It has to be the moor, no other earthly landscape has given me more inspiration than Dartmoor, whilst writing both Embrace and Shadow the long hikes on the tors, through valleys and open moorland gave me the uninterrupted time and space to really let my imagination run riot. For instance I would go out in the morning with only the faintest glimmer of an idea or a riff and come back 4 hrs later with an entire song and arrangement bouncing around in my head. If the source of this creation was good enough for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle then it’s good enough for me. It’s beautiful, bleak, unforgiving, mysterious and dark, there’s no better backdrop more fitting for doom!
In the last few months US Forcefield Records have released The Wounded Kings/Cough split? It’s a pretty impressive band to be doing a split with, who contacted who and how long did it take to get the record out?
Joey from Cough sent me a myspace message out of the blue asking if we’d be interested in doing something together, being a fan of the band already I didn’t hesitate, although as a band we are quite different, we do share a common vision of evil and this really comes through on this split, I think both tracks really gel with each other as they were both specifically written for this release, not some cutting room floor rejects we hobbled together! As for getting the record out we both recorded our tracks about year before it surfaced, I know things move slowly in doom but fuck!! Haha! Having said that the attention to detail on the sleeve design and the pressing etc. by the Cough lads and Forcefield has been well worth the wait!
Another integral part to the band is your interest in matters concerning the occult. What in particular attracted you to the arte? Do you practise yourself? Can you recommend five books to those who are seeking knowledge about the path?
To be honest Pete I’m not a practising ritualist, my use of the occult extends mainly to the Tarot, which I do consult quite often, I have partaken in 1 or 2 rituals in the past but they were for specific reasons and it’s not something I practice regularly as part of a group or even solitary for that matter. I’ve always been attracted to the occult in some way or another, my moon is in Scorpio so I’m naturally attracted to the darker aspect of the cosmos and mankind’s shadow side. I remember doing the Ouija Board in my teens and scaring myself half to death with it! After that you start taking it a bit more seriously, and then the books start appearing, I actually prefer the more sensational/pulp occult books, here are 5 books that I would never part with:
1. The Secret lore of magic – Idries Shah (this is the real deal, for the practising magician)
2. The Mabinogian (the Evangeline Walton version) filled with folklore and magic
3. King of the Witches – June Johns(biography of Alex Sanders nuff said!)
4. On Becoming an Alchemist – Catherine MacCoun (a must for learning about the inner planes)
5. The Black Arts – Richard Cavendish(a classic)
Equipment is another cornerstone to a band’s sound? What are you currently using for guitar and do you think this is at least partially responsible for giving The Wounded Kings their distinctive sound?
Damn right mate! I use a good old fashioned Fender Telecaster USA, the guitar of choice for all aspiring Doomers – hahaha! Man I tell you that guitar has blown people away when we’ve played, they can’t believe the tone I get from it, they think I’ve hot rodded it or something but I haven’t. I see their faces when I creep up on stage and I’m wielding my country and western axe around rather than a doomier than doom SG! The look of oh no this is going to be as limp as shit! But heh by the time I’m done they’ve changed there minds and asking me all kinds of questions that I can’t answer! It definitely has it’s own distinct tone, a nice twang that you don’t get with anything else, put that with a hi gain totally overdriven to the max Laney and some seriously heavy riffs and you get a strange bottom end with some serious mids that really cut through and the oscillation that the Tele has, yeah it’s unique. It’s my sound Pete and I won’t ever change it! Although I’d like to see what a 6 string Richenbacker would sound like through the same set-up!
At the shows I have seen, each song melt into one another as part of the jamming phenomena. When did this linking of the songs start to come together and is this a style you intend to develop with the new members?
It’s something we’ve done right from the start Pete, as a live set we have a definite beginning, middle and an end, we like to take the audience on a sonic journey and stopping to introduce songs, have a nice little chat etc.. would completely break the spell for us and I’d imagine for the audience as well! Every available second of airspace is filled with cymbals or feedback or riffs, it’s something that will never change.
What would you say has been the main highlight of doing the band so far?
Roadburn for sure, playing that was a mind blowing experience, getting a vinyl release is another, actually having your music on wax is a real magic moment for me! Sorry Pete that’s two!
I’m currently spinning on the turntable the split you did with Cough, Toner Low and Brainticket. So what are you currently listening too?
On my deck at the moment is Gracious – This is (fantastic mellotron prog) La Planete Sauvage soundtrack (totally cool kinda funky Pink Floyd meets Serge Gainsbourg) Message – From Books and Dreams (dark Krautrock – awesome)
Well thanks Steve for the interview, do you have any final words you would like to share with our reading audience?
Cheers Pete appreciate the interview, our new album ‘In The Chapel of the Black Hand’ has just been completed and will be released by I HATE sometime in August/Sept 2011 so please look out for it. Many thanks.
More info on Wounded Kings at: www.myspace.com/thewoundedkings2
Interviewed by: Pete Hamilton-Giles