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Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 15th April, 2013 9:35AM

Wellington sludge metal band Beastwars will release their sophomore full-length album, Blood Becomes Fire, this Friday April 19th, and will spend May on the road across New Zealand and Australia to celebrate, including two dates in support of Unida. UTR caught up with guitarist Clayton Anderson to chat about pushing themselves to the edge during their recording process in Dunedin, and why bespectacled, tweed-jacket-wearing dudes are also fans of their music.

Hey Clayton, what are you up to?

Well, this weekend we’re packaging together 100 albums at Nato’s house to send away on Wednesday and Thursday next week, because they’re pre-orders people have bought. We’re also signing some CDs for JB Hi-Fi because they’re running a thing wherein if you made a pre-order purchase you got a signed copy of the CD. So that’ll be interesting: that’s quite a few vinyl to make sure are addressed right haha.

It’s great that you sold so many pre-orders in the age of digital though, right?

Yeah it’s awesome! When the coloured vinyl went live it sold out in about three-and-a-half hours and we've also sold close to 100 of the black vinyl. The CDs and t-shirt bundles are all ticking over too which is really good.

It’s great that you guys have focussed on the tactile nature of releasing an album - it's obviously an important element for you?

Yeah I just think that if you go to the extra effort it pays off. I know that I enjoy buying a vinyl and getting to hold it - getting a package, an album, it’s like getting a present. It’s not just the music that's important, it’s the artwork as well. We’re really proud of the artwork Nick Keller has done for us, as well as all of the other artists who have contributed work – Toby Morris doing those pick designs for example, and also the three t-shirt designs are really cool. It’s just that little bit extra that I think people appreciate. The artwork looks amazing so it’s got to be put on vinyl.

Yeah totally. I was just doing an interview with a young American artist before and we were talking about artwork. He mentioned that he does buy music off iTunes but he said he’s never fallen in love with an album in that format because he can’t get a feel for the full direction of the artist without holding the record and checking out the artwork.

Yeah definitely, I agree with him. The whole thing of having to stick the vinyl onto the record player is really important too. The coloured vinyl also looks way better than what I thought it would - the red bleeds through to the gold which is pretty awesome.

Moving from what it looks like to what it sounds like: where and when did you write and record this one?

The first album exceeded our expectations! Then it was at the end of the tour for the first album and we decided to knuckle down, and Nato had come up with quite a few of the riffs for the album – he writes them and then brings them to us, and we turn it into the Beastwars sound, with James’(Woods) sludgy bass and me working on textures for the guitar.

It was probably towards the end of 2011 that we really knuckled down. We decided pretty much straight away that we wanted to do it with Dale (Cotton) again - we loved the sound and the performance he got out of us. Obviously the first album was done in four and-a-half-days, so this time we thought we’d spend a whole ten days doing it and booked it over Easter to give us lots more time. Well it didn’t, it was still crazy, full on total immersion experience –

- Ten days still isn’t that long at all –

No not at all. And with Dale it’s like going into the heart of darkness. I mean, Dale had his own personal things going on then as well, and while we were recording we were drinking a lot. He got a lot out of us from the way he worked us: there was a lot of antagonism and stuff. By the end of the recording process we were ready to get the fuck out of there.

It was pretty draining, it wasn’t like a holiday at all. Starting our days at 10am and working right through until the morning and dossing down on the floor and getting up again to do it. He had a great studio in his house and a fantastic kitchen so we just cooked amazing dinners and things, but by the end of it we were pretty frazzled - we were all just completely knackered at the end of it. That’s pretty much it.

We also knew we wanted to use John Golden again to master it – he gets an amazing sound and he’s cheap. Well, for what you pay for he does an amazing job of making it sound really good.

It sounds like Dale got something quite personal and primal out of you guys?

Definitely. Especially in the evenings he created a lot of conflict and if he wasn’t happy with something he would tell us. He’s almost New Zealand’s version of Martin Hannett (the Factory Records producer) or Phil Spector - he’s not afraid to tell you what he thinks. Having said that he’s a great guy - it’s not like we’ve fallen out with him or anything - but he does drive you crazy getting the record done.

Also, we go away and record at the bottom of the South Island. Dunedin has it’s own vibe that I particularly love and I know the other guys love too. We love the place, we love the history, especially the music history. Three of us in the band are huge Flying Nun fans. I suppose the thing with Dale is that he has got the ties to those guys. We borrowed Bob Scott’s bass on the recording that he played ‘Tally Ho’ to and they’re all really helpful. We’re a bunch of bogans from Wellington who some people would probably turn their nose up at but the response that we got from the music scene down there was very giving, and they knew we were passionate about the history of Flying Nun so that was really cool.

When you talk to any of those guys about why they created such profound music they argue it was to do with the bleakness and atmosphere in Dunedin; that it’s cold and depressing and there’s nothing else to do. It sounds like Dale imbued your recording process with that kind of atmosphere?

Yeah definitely and we pick up that vibe when we go down there. Dunedin has got that cold southerly, port town feel about it. We embrace it when we’re down there recording. It’s got the climate and the landscape that somehow manages to produce creative. Who knows, maybe there’s some kind of ley line thing there that means it produces great musical talent, but it was certainly that environment that made the record as good as it is, and I can’t imagine us being in Wellington and recording. If you’re recording in the city where you live you’ve got the potential to fuck around. I would probably want to fuck off home when I’m not doing my guitar parts, whereas in Dunedin there was no-where to go so if I wasn’t working I was sitting there listening and giving ideas to whoever was working on it.

You mentioned before that you’re "bogans from Wellington and some people might not give a shit about your music", but it’s really interesting that Beastwars has transcended their genre to a certain extent: do you notice the diversity of your audience and why do you think this is?

I certainly do notice it. We do notice that in Wellington we’ve got a lot of metalheads who do listen to us, they are predominant. But there are guys who look like geeks with beards and glasses coming up to you afterwards saying “I’m such a massive fan of you guys, you were awesome”, and they’re wearing a tweed jacket and stuff. I suppose maybe that while we make sludge metal or doom metal Nato is actually the only true metalhead in the band - he is the one who loves High on Fire and that stuff. The other three of us have really diverse musical taste. I’m a big metal fan but I love Sonic Youth and Fugazi, lots of nineties grunge and I’m a huge PJ Harvey fan. So you’ve got me who likes sonically dissonant guitar, and then James who’s a huge Stooges and Flying Nun fan – particularly the weirder, not-so-popular Flying Nun stuff - as well as Scott Walker and seventies rock. Then Matt’s (Hyde) into a bunch of stuff, from Led Zeppelin right through to Brian Jonestown Massacre and that kind of psych-drone stuff. So with all of our musical tastes I think we all lend something to the music that does mean that we are not a true metal band and that’s reflected in the audience.

And we’re premiering the opening track on the album, ‘Dune’. What’s the story behind that track?

Luckily you chose that one because I do actually know what Matt’s lyrics are about. There's a theme to the album which is this time-traveller who is from another world. He turns up to earth in the future and it doesn’t look like it does now, it’s totally apocalyptic. That song ‘Dune’ is basically about his arrival; he arrives through the earth’s atmosphere in a spacesuit rather than a spaceship. He arrives and it’s the first time he sees earth.

Musically ‘Dune’ is one of the first songs we wrote for the album and we used to play it in our set last year. It’s a bit of a hark back to nineties grunge. We mainly play slow music but that’s a fast-paced one and the hook at the end is something that could be pulled straight out of ’93, ’94 or Rage Against the Machine or something. That’s kind of it, I hope I explained it OK.

You're going on a pretty full-on nationwide tour for the album soon: are you looking forward to it?

Shit yeah! We haven’t toured for ages, since late last year and we’re checking out a few new towns which is exciting. People from Timaru have always driven up to go to our Christchurch gigs so we’re playing there and hopefully we get a good crowd. And we’ve always wanted to play Invercargill too because we hear there’s a good scene down there, so we’re looking forward to going to those towns to see what happens. It’ll probably be make or break in the sense that if people don’t turn up we probably won’t go back there but we’re pretty confident that we will get people there.

Hitting the road again is great because it’s four lads, all of whom have day jobs. We finish work early on a Friday, jump on a plane and go somewhere and it’s always good: sit in a van driving the next day going to the next town.

And you’re doing two days in support of Unida…

Yeah two in New Zealand and one each in Melbourne and Sydney as well. One of those dates the Truckfighters are playing too. I’ve listened to Unida a bit but I’m certainly a huge Kyuss and John Garcia fan, and we got to play with Kyuss back in 2011 and so it’s going to be a privilege to support them. But I’ve been a fan of Truckfighters for ages now. A friend introduced me to them and they sound like they’re straight out of the Californian desert but they’re actually from Sweden and they’re really really good, so I’m pretty stoked to be meeting those guys and playing with them.

We’re playing two solo dates in Aussie as well so it’ll be interesting to gauge our popularity over there too.


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