Having only been around for just over 7 months, Northern Doomers They Are Cowards are certainly causing one hell of a racket in the Underground. They’ve already completed a 3 date UK tour with Gloomy Sunday, Lazarus Blackstar and Black Sun, recorded a limited 4 track demo and with offers coming in for various split vinyl releases for later in the year, 2008 has certainly been a whirlwind of a year so far, with this, I caught up with Toby, Shane, Paul & Callum to hear their cowardly thoughts…
Firstly can you give us a brief history of the band and your current members?
TOBY: The band was formed around December time last year, I had been speaking to Paul for a few months about starting a new band together, I had spoken to Shane about playing bass and we were hunting a drummer. As it turned out, both Shane and I left Atavist at the same time so he came onboard, then the obvious choice for drum duty was Callum as he and Shane work really well together and we had all been in Atavist. Paul fit in really well with everyone and had the same attitude towards what we wanted from the new project.
PAUL: Formed in late December 2007, under a freezing moon. Current members are Toby (Insults, Screaming, Mic Torture), Paul (Burning Metal Axe), Shane (Blower Bass) and Callum (Thunder Machine).
Where did the name They Are Cowards come from and is there any significant meaning behind it?
TOBY: The name is just one of those things that can mean something different to different people. To me personally it has a lot to do with political and religious beliefs, namely people who hide who or what they are or corporations and politicians that haven’t got the backbone to just be honest about what is really going on in the world today. Shane and Paul are probably more qualified to give a deeper answer here.
SHANE: The original title was ‘Cowards’, but to ensure that the name was unique to ourselves we added ‘They Are’. The most appropriate way I have seen it written is they are COWARDS. The name comes from a lot negativity surrounding us – it applies to everyone.
PAUL: You’ll get no deeper answer than that from me chief.
CALLUM: Nothing to add here, we just plain don’t like the way the world works and the fucks than run it.
How would you describe your sound and what influences the They Are Cowards despondent drones?
TOBY: The million dollar question… The sound… Honestly it’s a hard question to answer, I don’t feel we’re are total doom band, or a pure metal band, or whatever else… I think we just have to say we’re a down tuned heavy band. We don’t consciously try to write slow songs or fast songs, we’re really just enjoying the freedom to do ‘what feels right’ for the song.
As for the despondency, I think all of us have a lot of anger and resentment built up for a million and one reasons and I think that music is just the only real product channel for release. Certainly for me it gives me a chance to really get things out and away from me, the volume and the power is cathartic so I guess that contributes a lot to the sound.
SHANE: It’s not stoner, that’s for sure. Everyone has a different idea of what the band sounds like. We don’t directly push any influences, nor do we attempt to assimilate whatever it is that we’re currently listening to at home. Each track on the demo is different and works really well as a whole.
PAUL: I would describe our sound as Loud, and my personal musical influences include Piggy, Buzz Osbourne, Robert Fripp, Tim Sult, Brian Eno, Scott Walker, Sparks and (of course) WINO.
CALLUM: I just wish I could drum like Justin Greaves from Iron Monkey, so I try that. As far as the overall sound, as mentioned, we play low end filth.
Speaking of your sound, can you give us an insight into what equipment you use?
TOBY: Throat, beer and smokes.
SHANE: I’m not into the technicalities of gear – two cabs, head, bass & pedal.
PAUL: Well, my current rig consists of : Gibson Les Paul Studio, LTD/ESP Viper 301, Hiwatt Maxwatt 200W head w/ Sound City 4×12 and Marshall 4×12 cabinets. I’ve stripped my effects down to a Sanford and Sonny Bluebeard Fuzz, Dunlop Zakk Wylde Wah, Line 6 DL4 and an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Plus. I occasionally use an E-Bow. I’m trying not to be an effects junkie.
CALLUM: I have drums that allow be to beat the shit out of them, that’s my only requirement when it comes to equipment.
And what about lyrics, who writes them and what subject matters do they cover?
TOBY: I guess that’s all down to me, but I think it’s fair to say we all have a say in all areas of the songs so if anyone else has ideas they will get incorporated. As far as subject matter goes, I suppose it’s mostly negative stuff, anything from general disgust of the human condition to hopeless state of the world governments. But mostly just the negative side of things.
SHANE: Yeah, that’s all down to Toby.
PAUL: What he said.
CALLUM: I agree also, shallow and pedantic.
When writing new material, how do you come up with your initial ideas and how do these transcend into a full song?
TOBY: All the material we have written so far has come from jams and ideas that Shane and Paul have come up with, we’ve got into the habit of recording most of the practices so we can go back over jams and loose ideas for tracks and really take the best bits. We’re really conscious of not just bolting any old riffs together, we don’t force the songs, if a track needs another section, we’ll put it to one side till we find something that fits.
SHANE: A lot of the material that has been written has come from talking about what we want from a track and then jamming it out. No one walks in and says ‘listen to this track I’ve written’. It all happens as a collective, in the practice room. I think this has shown itself in the strength of our live performances.
PAUL: I lock everyone in a room and play all the riffs I can think of at them at high volume. Shane makes them more sensible. Callum makes them rock. Toby sprinkles stardust on them, and voila! A musical meisterwork is born.
CALLUM: Summed up already by you guys.
In May 2008 you played your first set of gigs as part of the Gloomy Sunday, Lazarus Blackstar & Black Sun UK tour, firstly, how did you manage to get involved with this tour considering at the time you’d not released anything or played live?
TOBY: Well I’d been speaking to Dave (Future Noise) for quite a while about starting a new band and he was really supportive from day one. So when we actually got it rolling and were writing songs we kept him in the loop and he offered us the opening slot. It was a really great thing to do and helped us out no end. Just yet another example of how integral to this scene Future Noise really are.
SHANE: Dave (FN) and Toby have a good friendship and we were offered the opening slot for this tour early on. We said from one day that we’d do our best to play as much as we could and this was too good an offer to turn down. It gave us the kick we needed to get writing – Fighting off Unwanted Wolves was finished the weekend before the first dates.
PAUL: We have pictures of Dave Future Noise with some barnyard animals.
And how do you feel they went?
TOBY: Incredibly well! The first show was quite nerve wracking, but we did ourselves proud and put a lot of demons to rest. We all love playing the Star & Garter so it was killer to have our first show there. The Sheffield show was solid, wasn’t mind blowing, but a good solid show and the promoters did themselves proud with the beer rider! Heavyfest was INSANE!!! The best of the 3, we’d hit our stride and that coupled with drinking all day lead to possibly one of the best shows I’ve ever played! The sound was awesome; we were firing on all cylinders and just tore it up. Really boosted our confidence and inspired us to bigger and better things!
Have to give MASSIVE thanks to Lazarus Blackstar, Black Sun & Gloomy Sunday, they really made us feel at home and made those dates a blast.
SHANE: As mention earlier the way we’ve written songs helped us immensely when it came to the live performances. Following on from the Bradford gig (which was intense) we know exactly what we want.
PAUL: As Toby said, we gained in confidence over the 3 shows that we played. By the time we got onstage at the 1 in 12, we were firing on all cylinders. Bradford was Tokyo and we were Godzilla. As for the other bands; good bands, grrrrreat people. We bonded in very touching and erotic ways with Black Sun though.
CALLUM: Nothing to add here.
Your also starting to get quite a few gigs including support to The Sontaran Experiment in July and Rottingham in October, so have you found it easy to get offers for gigs and do you think that your members past involvement with other higher profile bands has helped this?
TOBY: Yeah it’s been pretty easy to get gigs, the scene seems to be really pulling together at the moment and just by reaching out to the right people and actually being prepared to play shows when they’re offered you can start building all sorts of bridges. I don’t think our past involvements have helped that much as we have been consciously trying to start with a clean slate, we ask promoters not to mention ex bands on flyers etc and we have made no attempt to utilise any contacts garnered through those endeavours. I think there was, and still is, a lot of stigma surrounding them so for us the clean slate was the only way forward – hard work and having a respect for the scene and the people that make things happen.
SHANE: Rather than the past involvement in bands I think it’s Toby’s relationship with Dave from Future Noise and members of other bands has been the key factor in the gig offers. We seem to have a good relationship with a number of people and they all loved the demo; a healthy combination.
PAUL: I think that the fact that Toby is so pro-active within ‘the scene’ is a big help, and the links to our old bands have definitely been a factor, BUT I think people are genuinely interested in what we’re going to do and want to hear more. We are quite good, you know.
CALLUM: Like Toby has mentioned, we don’t go around spouting off what we have done in the past, as it shouldn’t make a difference. We are more than happy to work from the bottom upwards, a DIY attitude is something we all feel strongly about.
You released a 4 track demo before you hit the road with Gloomy Sunday, although limited to just 50 copies, can you tell us what the feedback for this has been like so far?
TOBY: Again the feedback has been great! For a totally DIY recording in the practice room we fell it really serves as a great intro to the band. People are shocked when we explain the recording setup! But all in all the feedback has been really good and people seem to be really into what we’re doing. I think we were all quite nervous about people reactions to the material and how they perceived it with regards to our previous bands, but everyone has said that it really has its own identity and feeling.
SHANE: My friends are all very honest (sometimes too much) and I value their comments the most. They all really liked it. One comment was that it’s heavy and downbeat but you can still tap your foot to it now and again.
PAUL: VERY positive reactions all around. I think that it came as quite a surprise to a lot of people who were probably expecting a retread of the whole extreme droning sludge sound.
What about future releases, have you had any label interest and are there any plans to hit the studio later in the year?
TOBY: We will hopefully be doing a couple of split vinyl releases towards the end of the year, talks are underway at the moment so fingers crossed that will all happen! As for studio time, yeah later in the year we will be recording a bunch of tracks ready for splits etc and then all being well the debut album early next year!
SHANE: As Toby has said we’re in talks with a few bands/labels about possible split LPs. One that has been confirmed is a Black Sun/they are Cowards split LP on At War With False Noise. I’m a huge fan of split 7″/12″ releases, that’s what I am pushing for. We’ll be doing exclusive material for these releases.
You announced you will not be uploading any MP3’s to your Myspazz page, instead you’ll be making your debut demo available as a free download when its sold out, can you elaborate as to why have you made this decision?
TOBY: Until MySpace sorts its terms & conditions out with regards to bands music we have no wish to put any music online with them. We made 50 of the demos to give out and to sell, we have no interest in making money from them, so we sold the 50 with covers etc and then after that it will be free to download. I’m really into the idea of legal music downloads, don’t get me wrong, I love packaging and owning something physical, but at the end of the day I want people to come to the shows, buy a shirt maybe, drink a load of beer and have a good time! The best way to get people to shows is not to charge £15 for a CD, it’s to give people what they want; the music! Get ’em hooked! The people that are happy with mp3’s were never going to buy the CD anyways, so you are not losing anything. I’d rather 50 people download our album (hypothetically) and come and see us live than 10 people buy the CD and the other 40 never hear it and never have a reason to come to the show. For me being in a band is about 1 thing; playing live. If you aren’t playing live then what’s the point?
What is your involvement with Future Noise?
TOBY: We love them, they love us, we’re gonna run away and get married in Gretna Green!
PAUL: Sexual. Definitely a very sexual involvement.
CALLUM: They touch us in ways only they can.
As we’re now half way through 2008, what are your plans for the rest of the year?
TOBY: Gigs, Write more, Gigs, Record more, Gigs… oh and GIGS!
PAUL: More shows, recording, release records, even more shows then bury the bodies.
CALLUM: I am moving from London to Manchester this summer, and Shane and I will be living together so this will increase the productivity tenfold. We are gonna release as much, and gig as much as possible. Fuck lazy bands who do nothing!
What question would you have liked to have been asked?
PAUL: Do you want a drink?
And did your vegan mate Robbie really buy some pork scratchings thinking they were meat free?
PAUL: So I’m told.
CALLUM: This is very, very true. Robbie sings in The Day Man Lost and Calculon so if you ever catch them live, ask him all about it! He loves it!
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview and please use this space for any final words…
TOBY: Thank you man! I can’t think of anything profound or witty, hopefully the other 3 can! Cheers!
SHANE: I don’t mean to sound negative guys, but no.
PAUL: Handbag. Carnival. Partridge. Underpant.
CALLUM: How good is the new Unearthly Trance!
Interviewed by: Lee Edwards