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

Narc. Magazine Online

Reliably informed

After a whirlwind 2018, Newcastle-formed grunge darlings Demob Happy gear up for a headline UK tour, coming back to the city where it all began for a gig at Northumbria Institute on Wednesday 27th February. I caught up with singer Matt Marcantonio to chat about aliens, American super fans and Newcastle Brown Ale.

The band moved down to Brighton in 2010, what prompted the move?
One of the reasons we moved down to Brighton originally was because the music we were doing at the time was slightly different. It was more bluesy, prog or something… We’d only ever get put on bills with acoustic song writers or metal bands and it would just never work. That was kind of one of the reasons we left, I think we went on a little trip down to Brighton once and saw there were other bands playing rock and roll and we were like ‘ah, so there are other people out there’.

But we had our fair share of misery in Newcastle. When we were living on Cardigan Terrace we had this absolute cunt of a neighbour. We used to play music facing his wall just to piss him off. Then he got the council involved and we had all of our gear confiscated from us, so we had to go to court and get it back. That was quite an eventful year, it meant there was a whole year where we couldn’t rehearse because we literally didn’t have any gear and we’re all completely fucking skint. So I think when we got it all back we were like, right let’s leave Newcastle now, I think it’s time. Funny in hindsight.

You guys had quite an eventful year in 2018. You released your critically lauded second album Holy Doom and toured internationally. Any personal highlights?
Definitely when we were in America. The first headline show we played in Richmond, Virginia there was this guy who was absolutely psyched. I’m not gonna lie, I mean there was maybe like 10, 20 people there or something, but there was this one guy who had travelled hours to be there, was there before doors at 3pm. I couldn’t have imagined when we were first starting out that someone would do that. And then just generally on the US tour, playing in front of those massive audiences, it was our first taste of what it’s like to be at that sort of level.

Has it always been music for you, or have you tried your hand at any other creative endeavours?
Not really to be honest, since I was 12 or 13 I started writing tunes on piano and stuff like that. I kind of always saw it as my plan A, I didn’t really prepare for a plan B. I want to do music so I’ll just throw everything I’ve got at that. In this day and age when it’s so difficult to do anything whatsoever you either have to do it 100% or not at all. It’s not an easy egg to crack, the whole music business and that. I think there would have been some things I could’ve bypassed if I had a mentor along the way, but me and the lads were just sort of figuring it out as we went.

You kind of have to be the finished product these days before anyone takes an interest in you, is that another reason you do your own visuals and artwork?
It’s kind of because we always did, we do all the videos and the artwork and everything like that. On one hand it’s for the creative vision that we always want to keep to but also because if you don’t have any money you’ve just got to do it yourself. I think it’s important that no matter where we get to, we’ll always hold onto that ideology.

We’ve just been fortunate enough to work with a label who have supported that, a lot of people shit on their labels but we really can’t say a bad word about ours. There’s not many labels would let a new band release Dream Soda, like a concept album on their first go, and go to the depths that we did to make that happen. They gave us full creative control over that album, there’s not many bands that get that opportunity.

Anything left on the Demob Happy bucket list? Venues? Collaborations?
The big one for us is seeing the world. I’d love to go to Japan, South America would be amazing to tour. If you get the opportunity to do that sort of thing by playing music it’s ridiculous really. That’s the reward that we feel, because we don’t make any money so when you get the opportunity to do that it’s like, that’s the payment. So I think for us it’s getting that opportunity, even going to France to do a festival can be amazing, maybe you’ll get a day to have a look around Paris or something. It’s little things like that.

What sort of music do you tend to listen to?
I always just listen to a lot of old stuff, I’m slowly making my way through the 60s and 70s. I always feel like I’m discovering new stuff. I listen to a bit of modern stuff, what would probably be classed as ‘alt’. A lot of the American stuff; Ty Segall, Unknown Mortal Orchestra and St. Vincent I like as well but really to be honest it’s a lot of 60s and 70s.

That sound really comes through on Holy Doom; in the fuzz and the production
Yeah definitely, it’s an aesthetic that we love as a band. We like the way it all sounds so on Holy Doom we tried really hard to get that sort of sound but push it into a more modern place, because you never want to be a luddite. There’s just a realness to how a lot of those old records sound. It’s slightly to do with the psychology of knowing that there weren’t any computers so you know that everything that they played, they played in that moment. So we have to balance our own desires to authentically be that band with the resources we have available, because in all honesty you can’t spend three months in a studio anymore, the money just isn’t there, not like it used to be in the 70s. So unfortunately you have to cut corners in some ways but we try and balance it as well as we can.

How are the new demo’s coming along? Have you got many in the pot already?
I’ve kind of made a bit of a New Year’s resolution to try and finish stuff, we have a place we go to in Wales to write because we like to just get out of the city and have a bit space. Whenever we go we always have new stuff, a conservative estimate of how many ideas and songs there are, I think we counted 70 or something. There’s always so much stuff that we never finish. We seem to be very good at adding new cool ideas to this ever growing pile and never finishing any of them off. So it seems insurmountable, this task to actually finish any of them. That’s kind of the process I’m going through at the minute, looking back at all of the stuff and seeing what’s good and what’s not.

We have a system where we record everything that we do, so we hit record and we just start playing and fucking around. You end up with a 50 minute jam and you’re like ok, am I really going to sit through all of this and try and find the good bits? But invariably there are always good bits and then shit bits, so I’m just trying to go back through that and form it into songs, it’s quite a big task. I would say in terms of the sound, I think it’s just a natural kind of evolution, there were things that we felt we didn’t quite say on Holy Doom that we want to say. So I guess it will progress naturally in a way.

The title track of Holy Doom was really cool to do because it’s a kind of flex. It was another string to our bow that we kind of haven’t done previously but it’s always been there, we just never recorded it or put it down. I’m originally a piano player, then when we formed Demob I started learning the bass. That’s primarily like a keys and piano/bass track so there’s a lot of stuff there that I’ve never gotten to express in that way, because we’ve always been a guitar oriented band. I think we just generally feel like there’s more that we can express in those terms so Holy Doom was cool for that. There’s probably going to be a bit more of stuff like that on the new record, but also a bit more of all of it really.

Is there a particular kind of track you’re still waiting to do? Like a ballad or a 10 minute opus?
(Laughs) Funny you should say that, it’s always like the 10 minute opus. When we first started the band all of our songs were like 10 minutes and that’s not even an exaggeration. We had one song that was eight minutes, another that was 10, another that was six and a half. All of these really long songs and the process that we’re trying to go through at the minute is simmering it down until its key components. Even though we think a 10 minute song is great, we’re like, ‘ok maybe it’s slightly alienating to do a 10 minute song, let’s make this into a three minute song’, but it means we have to be quite brutal. What I’d love to do is just have a song on the new album that is unashamedly 10 minutes long. I think that would be quite fun.

What other things inspire you?
I read a load of far out shit. I just generally read non-fiction, so I’m reading a lot of stuff to do with conspiracies and aliens and government cover ups and stuff like that. I’ve been reading Jordan Peterson’s book, he’s this quite controversial Canadian psychologist. I like introspective things to further my mind and my consciousness and, dare I say, spirituality. And loads of cool interesting stuff about aliens and shit like that.

Does that feed into your songwriting too?
Yeah, I definitely think so. On Dream Soda especially I addressed a lot of that stuff because I felt like I had to. I wanted to say a lot on those things and when I went into Holy Doom I felt like I’d said a lot and also I’d changed as a person. I think it’s quite easy when you start to realise how the world really works, it can be very disenfranchising and you can really get lost in negativity because it seems hopeless, you know. Like shit, what the fuck can we actually do to make the world a better place? I went through that process and put a lot of that anger into Dream Soda but then it was kind of a therapeutic process. With Holy Doom I was writing more about myself and my feelings about the whole thing, still very much bringing elements of that in but just more about my angle on it, my feelings towards it all.

We released Dream Soda in 2015 so I would’ve been about 25 and the songs were written over maybe three years, so those were a lot of my formative years and I became more self-aware and a globally-aware kind of person, as opposed to when you’re a teenager it’s all thinking about yourself, which is natural. I guess if a lot of bands write their first albums at the same sort of time there’s the potential for everyone to go through that thought process. And then I think when you get in to your mid 20’s approaching your 30’s like I am, I think your emotional maturity comes in which I guess is when you start to write more about ‘feelings.’ (Laughs)

I feel like rock bands and more alternative bands don’t tend to express other stuff maybe. I would always shy away from it a little bit really, I didn’t want other people knowing my dirty laundry, you know?

You’ve been a band for 10 years now, any advice for your past self?
I was thinking about this today actually. When we recorded Dream Soda we did it kind of entirely ourselves, we self-produced it and we worked with an engineer who we were friends with for a long time at a studio. So it was very much a self-driven thing, we didn’t have anybody going “oh well try this guitar sound?” We were very much figuring that out ourselves. I think in hindsight, I would never change anything about Holy Doom or Dream Soda and they’ve been very much self-driven efforts, but maybe we could’ve benefitted from a little bit of advice here and there. I’d say to my younger self you don’t have to worry so much about this, it’s still going to be your baby but you can listen to a little bit of advice. As opposed to stubbornly saying no this needs to be 100% my thing otherwise it’s worthless. But I think that’s a process that everyone goes through as an artist and as a writer, you have to feel like you’re standing on your own two feet, before you allow other people to collaborate you have to establish that.

The horror stories you hear when you’re growing up as a band make you feel like, “we can’t let anybody impact on our vision because it will ruin us” and I think it’s true really for the most part. We know a lot of bands who have had that treatment and it’s ruined them. I wouldn’t choose that path over the one we chose, I just think we could’ve saved ourselves some sleepless nights and some stress but, it’s all part of the fun isn’t it?

To wrap up I’ve devised a rather tenuous game if you’d humour me? I’ve got a list of things and I’d like you to tell me if they’re holy or doom – i.e. good or bad.
Football?
Holy.

Post Malone?
Doom.

Greggs vegan sausage rolls?
Holy.

Sambuca?
The drink? It’s like an aniseedy thing?

Yeah, like a shot.
Nah, doom.

Radiohead?
Holy.

Cats?
I’m a dog person, doom.

Newcastle Brown Ale?
Holy. 100% Holy. The holiest of holies!

 

Demob Happy will perform at Northumbria Institute on Wednesday 27th February, head down and buy them a bottle of the brown stuff.

 

Like this story? Share it!