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

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Hip-hop and rap may not be dominant genres in the region, but the purveyors of beats and rhymes that we do have are known for pushing boundaries and creating some of the tightest flows you can think of. Richmond natives and masked menaces Ceiling Demons are one of the most prolific groups of the bunch; the release of their debut LP Dual Sides was a breath of fresh air, combining beautifully crafted beats and samples with rhymes that provided an antidote to the prevalence of brag rap dominating the hip-hop landscape. They’re now back with new single Even If, which marks a sparser sound for Dan and Psy, who are reunited with producer Beat Demon.

Ahead of their gig at Empty Shop, I talked to the group about anonymity, trusting fans and Beat Demon’s reclusive trip to China.

I notice you utilise masks lots in the imagery surrounding your music, and the way you present yourself. Also, you give yourself pseudonyms as band members. How important has the idea on anonymity, removing the ego, or ‘everyman-ness’ been in making your music? Or are these personas or versions of yourselves perhaps?

We like the idea of anonymity exactly because it lends to that notion of “everyman-ness.” As a general rule, our music is quite emotional, so we want people to connect the music and we think that anonymity helps to do that. As far as the masks go, it fits in with the imagery we try to put across and the notions of spirit, soul and personal demons.

Psy and Dan, as lyricists, do you mostly write your contributions to songs privately or would you come together for a practice and improvise new ideas jamming with the music?

It’s a bit of a combination. We do write privately and later iron it out, but there are also a lot of times where we try to use more of a duet approach with call and response stuff going on. There’s a lot of playing off one another and matching verses that show different perspectives of a certain idea.

You have dealt with loss in a concentrated and ongoing way in your music. I believe in the idea that someone dies twice; once from the body and a second time the last time they are spoken about. Do you believe a person can remain present after their physical death as long as others are celebrating and talking/singing about them still?

They can certainly remain present in an abstract sense, and it’s very important we remember those we’ve lost collectively. Remembering those lives helps us to learn so much about what it is to be a good person and that can provoke real change for the better, while preserving the memory of a loved one.

Expressing deep and personal ideas, existential or otherwise, has a wonderful way of bringing people together in a more intimate way. Do you feel an openness and trust with audiences at the shows you play? Or can it depend on the gig? And have you seen it work the other way around; with audience members opening up to you because of the vulnerability you share in your lyrics?

We do feel a trust and connection with the audience in some gigs and when it goes well that sense of unity is very moving and incredibly uplifting. At the same time, particularly for someone who hasn’t seen us before, we’re just a band so it can go either way. We have had people reach out to us because of some of the issues our lyrics are dealing with, which is always a blessing. It’s very moving and humbling to know you’ve affected someone at an emotional level, sometimes it can actually be a bit scary.

ceiling demons

“it’s very important we remember those we’ve lost collectively. Remembering those lives helps us to learn so much about what it is to be a good person”

You are have just played Tramlines. I know you had been anticipating it greatly. What were your favourite things about the festival? Playing in an Art Gallery?

It was class! We were really lucky to have been given such a good spot at the Millennium Galleries (shout out to Jericho Keys), and we had an awesome time. The crowd was really great and we were blessed to receive such a good reception. We’ve played in art galleries before and it was fun, we also get to operate under the false pretence that we’re high art. The whole weekend was an absolute blast.

George (Beat Demon) – you’ve been away in China, and it was great to hear about how that has inspired you on the Life is People episode you recently did. Did you share your tracks with friends out there? Did you get any different reactions to your music in China that you haven’t had back in England?

To be honest, I became a bit reclusive with music while I was out there. I had a dry spell for months where nothing was coming out of me and I just didn’t have a clue what kind of music to make. When I did get it back I kept all the tunes to myself and the boys, really. I did show a lot of my students existing stuff, which was met with some pretty varying responses.

Mike Skinner opened a lot of doors for me and my music too, and you’ve credited him in such a way as well. Can you talk about some specific ways in which he has been a positive effect on your music? Who else has made a profound difference on your creativity?

He’s always been an influence on us, not just through his music but in the way he goes about it. He has a very down to earth approach to music and the business that we really respect. This gives us a lot of motivation to do what we want to do, the way we want to do it. For me (George), I draw a lot of inspiration from Japanese composers like Joe Hisaishi, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Nujabes. Delicate, warm and reflective melodies that they use have given me an ideal to work towards. I would say the biggest single influence on my creativity is Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, for the sheer profundity, pride and beauty of it. Lyrically Psy & Dan listen to shit loads of Serengeti, they’re inspired by the passion of artists like Young Fathers & Kate Tempest and basically want to be Mike Skinner.

You’ve just made Even If available. It is a gentle track with a warm melancholy feel about it. You mentioned in the Life is People interview that you seemed to have found a new place musically, a new stage. Would you consider this new track a part of that?

Broadly speaking, it’s a part of that. Even If is one of the more straightforward pop songs we’ve done, so it’s not particularly representative of the musicality or structure of our more recent music, but it does share an overall similarity in its sparseness and tone. Production-wise, Dual Sides was all about trying to cram as much in as possible in a kind of naive ambition. Now we’re taking it all out.

What are you most excited to do next as a group? In the studio, gigging or otherwise?

We’ve got some gigs coming up we’re really excited about. Tramlines was unreal! We’re playing Richmond Live 31st July before Funeral for a Friend, it’s will be a special home town show for us, then our single launch is at the Empty Shop in Durham 15th August with our pals Outside Your House and therunningchelsea. The lads in Outside Your House have just started a cassette label called Furx Cassettes so we’re buzzing to be involved. There’s also a lot of new material being made so we’re looking to start collating the next big project that should be out there in the not too distant future.

Ceiling Demons release Even If on 17th August. The band play Empty Shop HQ, Durham on Saturday 15th August.

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