With the release of the long-awaited new Spider Kitten album, Major Label Debut nearly upon us, I caught up with their frontman Chi Lameo to talk about what drives the band, their song writing processes, their ever changing style, mental health and of course, the newest instalment in a back catalogue full of riches.
Hi Chi, nice to catch up with you again and talk Spider Kitten business. There has been quite a lot of ground to cover since we last did this following the release of the Behold Mountain, Hail Sea, Venerate Sky, Bow Before Tree EP back in 2014.
Since then, you’ve released the incredible Ark Of Octofelis, Toker and Concise & Sinister EPs, two gospel influenced solo albums, recorded an album, rediscovered an already recorded EP and now finally it is time for the follow up: Major Label Debut. Your band bio says, ‘Stupidly Prolific’, this is certainly true.
Can you talk about what drives you?
Ha-ha, well last year I figured out that I have ADHD which explains a lot. I’ve always just felt compelled to make records. Whether anyone listens to them or not has never really been an incentive, which is why I’m so terrible at promoting the band. But I get obsessed with an idea for an album (always an album, rarely just a song idea) and then I hyper focus on it until it sounds like I want it to. I think an album, or an EP, is one of the most beautiful art forms. You can communicate so many ideas in such an instantly accessible way. I hope I’ll always be able to make albums.
I get obsessed with an idea for an album… then I hyper focus on it until it sounds like I want it to…
You have not played live as a band since (I think) 2014 supporting Pallbearer and Yob (which I was lucky enough to get to see). Can you talk about this and how it has affected the band?
I think our last show was actually Desertfest in 2016, but our live output had been declining since 2013 certainly. Basically in 2016 I had a nervous breakdown, or I think they call it a mental health episode nowadays. Anyway, I was suffering from crippling panic attacks and just had to take a step back from everything. I was smoking too much weed and drinking too much to try and self-medicate, which obviously didn’t help. I had to close down my studio, quit my job and basically hibernate for a year until I’d got a bit more of a grip on things. And, although we keep making records, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever play live again. Never say never, but unless my mental health improves significantly, I can’t see it happening.
You have written in a number of styles since I discovered you – Nordic influenced doom, americana, folk, blues, country and now your latest album is very much influenced by the 90s grunge aesthetic. Can you explain the reason for this constantly shifting style?
Boredom, ADHD ha-ha. It depends on what me and the rest of the band are into. I love so many different styles of music. I think that we have a ‘sound’ that is recognisable as our own, but it’s nice to interpret varying influences through that sound. I wouldn’t want to make the same record twice.
How do you think it impacts the listener, never knowing what they might get, or is it a case of writing for yourself and hoping that people connect?
It’s total self-indulgence. It’s lovely when people enjoy what we do, but you can’t control what other people will enjoy so I don’t worry about it. I think this approach has been pretty detrimental to our long-term success to be honest. If we just made Behold Mountain… another three or four times we’d have gained a lot more exposure. But I simply can’t work like that. That’s not to say we don’t enjoy revisiting a style or continuing a concept across multiple releases, but we could never just be a straight doom band. Why bother? Saint Vitus already exist.
It’s lovely when people enjoy what we do, but you can’t control what other people will enjoy so I don’t worry about it…
What is influencing you right now and how might that play into future releases?
Personally, I’m listening to a lot of jazz, Alice Coltrane, Mingus, Monk, late 60s Miles Davis. I think it might influence some of the song structures of our next recording project. Who knows? I have an idea to make a big, dense, slow and heavy record next. A bit of a return to our beginnings.
So, what is the typical writing process for Spider Kitten, if there can be such a thing?
It’s varied hugely over our lifetime depending on the line up. If Chris [West – drums] writes a song, he tends to bring it to us fully formed, with all the harmonies and everything already written. I’m the opposite. A riff or vocal part that I spend weeks on will never be any better than one I’ve literally just made up. I’ve always been the same. I think our two different approaches are what makes some of our more recent records so compelling. Weirdly Major Label Debut was mostly written by me and Steve [Jones – bass]. Him on drums and me on guitar, just jamming for a few hours to get the basic tracks. Usually, Chris drums and Steve plays bass, but Steve was around so that’s how it worked out. Then Chris added his bits later.
When it comes to recording do you have specific set up or studio you use?
We do 99% of it in my house, in my home studio. By necessity we record drums in a practice space or a studio, but then it’s so much more convenient to be able to work when we want to, rather than being constricted by time or money. It also means we can spend months getting it perfect if we need to.
I have seen you agonising over the cover artwork for the latest album on social media. How important is it for you to make your art a complete package?
Super important. It’s also often way harder to figure out the artwork and stuff like song titles than it is to get the music done. We don’t do songs, we make albums, and an album is a complete piece of art.
Our last few albums have been very proggy, long songs, dense concept, lots of synths. I just really wanted to make something a bit simpler and straightforward…
On to the new album, Major Label Debut. It’s an album you’ve wanted to do for a while in terms of sound and feel. What was the mindset behind that?
I love grunge and 90s alternative. I grew up with Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots too, never underrate their first four albums. Our last few albums have been very proggy, long songs, dense concept, lots of synths. I just really wanted to make something a bit simpler and straightforward. Eight shorter songs that knock your socks off. Accessible can be a dirty word in doom circles, but I love the pop qualities of Nirvana and AIC. I think even our dirgiest tunes have hooks, even if you have to squint to hear them.
The physical recording of the album has been completed for a while, but the finishing process has taken longer to finalise. What was the reasoning for this? Did COVID play into this?
No, it was mostly my mental health and Chris and Steve’s availability. I encouraged them to start a new band in order to play live, which they love doing. So, they formed Made Of Teeth (a fantastic band by the way, check them out if you like our music). And obviously that’s been taking up a lot of their free time. I have weeks when I can’t really work on anything besides just getting my daily life done and that’s frustrating for me and them. We recorded the basic tracks back in 2018 during a bit of a manic episode. They sat on my computer for a few years until I re-listened and fell in love with them again. Then I spent about a year getting them sounding right. And now they’re done, out in the world and aren’t my problem anymore. Ha-ha!
How have you coped over the last 18 months?
Actually, really well. I don’t really go out much and I have a lovely wife, cats, whisky, weed and a big record collection. I’ve just relaxed knowing that I couldn’t really go anywhere even if I was inclined to. My therapist would call that ‘avoidance’ ha-ha.
During 2020 you released the acidgoatweedwitchbongspacewizardwhore EP. That release was on a hard drive seemingly waiting for an opportune moment and coincidentally shares a style with the new album. Was this a planned resurrection or a happy coincidence?
That was recorded in the dying days of my studio (Pentastar Studios). We had a show at a festival, HRH Doom or whatever it was called, and we had just parted ways with our old bassist. So, Matt from Gravelines and Existence Dysphoria helped us out for that show on bass. While we were practicing, I couldn’t resist turning the mics on and quickly jamming out three tunes. They’re super roughly recorded with barely any overdubs, but I like them. Then I forgot they existed for five years, rediscovered them and put them out. If I’m compelled to work quickly, I tend towards grunge rather than metal it seems.
While we were practicing, I couldn’t resist turning the mics on and quickly jamming out three tunes…
This period of music seems to be hugely influential to you. What do you think is the appeal and the enduring love for this type of music?
Grunge, although a mostly meaningless term, is a good descriptor for that era of heavy alternative stuff. For me the appeal is pop sensibilities and hooks and harmonies, but with some balls behind them. AIC are a perfect example of this. Noisy and sincere but really pretty in places.
The album itself is one of your more direct and hook laden efforts. Is this a by-product of the style or a deliberate choice like Nirvavna writing Nevermind?
I didn’t think too much about it to be honest. The basic tracks were jammed out in two afternoons and then everything else just sort of happened. I hear an unfinished song and I just sort of know what’s missing. A basic drum and bass track is a perfect canvas, and I keep filling it until it feels like it’s done. So, the hooks were what was meant to be there, if that makes sense. I think there’s a huge amount of conscious and subconscious influence from those early 90s bands though. You’ll probably notice at least two elements we’ve nicked from different bands in each song, I would think.
The lyrics seem to deal with mental health in quite a multifaceted approach. How important is it in these days to help people to try and free themselves of the stigma surrounding the issues and be able to talk freely about them?
I think it’s vital. I grew up in a valleys town where you just didn’t talk about stuff like that, and it’s been a struggle to come to terms with all I’ve lost over the years because of my difficulties. I only realised I had ADHD at age 37, knowing that for the past thirty years would have been really fucking useful to be honest. Ha-ha.
I think the stigma is less nowadays, and people are more open to discussing it. But I think we all need to try and be as open as we’re comfortable being about our mental health. There’s no shame in being differently abled. There’s a lot of things I can’t do because of anxiety and it fucking sucks, but at least over the last year or so I’ve started to realise that it’s not my fault and it doesn’t make me a lesser person. It’s a cliché but I would encourage anyone experiencing difficulty to reach out to a friend, a doctor, a stranger even. There’s no shame at all in asking for help or admitting that you’re struggling. Anyone that tells you there is isn’t worth listening to anyway.
I’ll get straight on with making the next record, which I think is going to be really heavy and really slow as a bit of a contrast to this one…
What are your expectations and hopes for the album and where do you see the next direction for the band heading?
I hope some people dig this album, it’d be nice to sell a few copies of the CD and mp3s, but as long as people listen, I’m happy, beyond that I can’t really control so it’s no use worrying about. I’ll get straight on with making the next record, which I think is going to be really heavy and really slow as a bit of a contrast to this one. Spider Kitten in some form will continue to make albums at the rate of about 1 per year for as long as I’m able to do that. We’ve done thirty releases in the past twenty years, so if we can do another twenty in the next twenty years that’d be great.
Finally, is there any music that you would recommend, new and/or old?
Some stuff that I’ve been digging recently: Charles Mingus – The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady, Thrones – Alraune, Blaze Foley – The Dawg Years, Frank Zappa – Waka Jawaka, Miles Davis – In A Silent Way, Wipers – Youth Of America. There’s a new Haast album on the way too that is very good indeed.
A big thank you to Chi for taking time out to talk to The Sleeping Shaman so openly and candidly about a myriad of topics. Major Label Debut is self-released through Spider Kitten’s website on the 12th November on CD and Digital Download.
Interviewed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden