INTERVIEW: Ceiling Demons | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

Image by Nick Wesson

“It’s part of being a Demon. Everything is dual in this world so, for us, this kind of balance is cathartic; it’s spiritual, emotional, raw, and a productive method of healing. Creativity seems to peak during dark times, so we see ourselves kind of like alchemists, transforming the negatives into something meaningful. We walk that line like the Man in Black – one day at a time.”

Psy and Dan Harrison, the Richmond-born siblings behind Ceiling Demons, are not ones to misuse words, or to underestimate their power. Drawing on a diverse pool of musical and literary influences, their distinctive, poetic and socially conscious take on hip-hop has already earned plaudits, with 2016’s Belly Of The Hopeless EP delighted critics and fans alike.

On Friday 15th September however, they finally unleash their long-awaited debut full-length Nil. An expansive and emotional work that combines established live favourites with powerful new material that confronts the anxiety and darkness of modern life to find an escape route. As the Harrisons explain, “Nil has been in the works for about three years and has seen many forms. It’s been good for us to tighten some of the tracks up in a live environment before properly putting them into the public domain.”

““The blueprint of the record was written by us and Beat Demon (George Ruston), then taken into the studio to put down vocals and add live instrumentation to the arrangements. We feel that the way these songs are experienced – live and recorded – are two separate mediums. Songs are living things, with the recording being the document and live performance being the moment, so they’re always changing and transforming, but we feel confident in performing these songs live in some form.”

Alongside bold, anthemic songs like Capture Karma, Nil finds Ceiling Demons exploring new sonic territory, most notably on the striking, minimal acoustic-driven opener The Rose. “The Rose was written by Psy in honour of a fallen friend – a true Yorkshire rose and a big supporter of our project. We included the song after being inspired by Ceschi’s 2015 album, Broken Bone Ballads – namely its blending of acoustic and hip hop elements. It’s the opening track of the record, but it’s written from a ghost’s perspective, so you could also say that it could be used at the end.”

Another glimpse of their expanding range comes with lead single March Forward, described by Tom Robinson as a “colliery brass-flavoured elegy”. As the Harrisons put it, “March Forward is a transitional piece; it’s linked to the seasons. As the unforgiving winter season fades, spring arrives, and we must all march towards it. Musically, the track pays homage to the traditional brass band sounds that have long been part of the culture in rural communities across the north. Lyrically, it addresses themes of loss, love and acceptance, with an underlying emphasis on hope.”

As those familiar with the band already will know, Psy & Dan have often made the most of their sibling bond in their work, with one of the duo’s lyrics often over-lapping and completing the other’s. Describing their writing method, they inform me, “we approach lyric writing in different ways – sometimes we write to music, and sometimes the lyrics are written beforehand and then adapted into a song. We generally write separately, bringing different ideas to the table and bouncing off each other’s input. Being twins, we tend to fuel and encourage each other along the way. We’re big fans of artists like Spiritualized, who use rounds and call-and-response structures for a dramatic effect – we wanted to play with these structures throughout Nil.”

Like a snake shedding its skin to reveal the body within, Nil is an attempt at purification

One major development Nil has brought for the band (as you’ll have already seen in the accompanying photoshoot) is the band’s decision to start removing their trademark masks. Discussing this, the Harrisons elaborate: “our original mask design was created by Lewis Edwards, our former housemate. It was originally multi-coloured, but we presented it in black and white on our first EP’s cover. We then wanted to bring this imagery to life with some physical masks, which we wore for our first video, for the track Lord, I Must Be Strong Now.  Our masked identity stuck and it fitted into our imagery and lyrics. These themes are still very much present in Nil, but we wanted to explore the concept of unmasking for this release. Like a snake shedding its skin to reveal the body within, Nil is an attempt at purification.”

Not only does Nil stand as the debut for Ceiling Demons, it also marks the first release by new Durham-based label Win Big Records. “The man behind Win Big Records, Faithful Johannes, is one half of Outside Your House, who we’ve known for a few years now. We’re really excited to be working with Faithful, as we know he’s super passionate about music and he’s always been a big supporter of what we do.”

Wrapping up, I also asked the band about how they saw their involvement within the flourishing north-east hip-hop scene. “We see ourselves as outsiders of sorts, so we reckon we sit more on the cusp of it. Having a live band setup at our shows, with a guitarist and drummer, gives us the versatility to be able to fit alongside other artists and genres. In terms of kindred spirits, we’d say Outside Your House – we love their experimental performances and the way they play with genres. The work of Tom Hollingworth also stands out to us. To be honest, there are a lot of really great local acts at the moment putting their hearts and souls into what they do. Acts like Jister, The Black Sheep Frederick Dickens, Mouses, Twist Helix, Kay Greyson, Jennifer Walton, What We Call Progress, Kv$hnoodle are some we’d flag as favourites. On the label side there’s Butterfly Effect, Kaneda Records, Lugubrious Audio, and of course Frux Tapes, who are working with some quality artists.”

Ceiling Demons release Nil via Win Big on Friday 15th September. They play Empty Shop in Durham with Otis Mensah and Me Lost Me [I Lost My] on Friday 6th October.

 

 

Like this story? Share it!