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Interview: Beastwars Unveil New Album 'Tyranny Of Distance'

Interview: Beastwars Unveil New Album 'Tyranny Of Distance'

Chris Cudby / Photo credit: David James / Friday 13th October, 2023 9:05AM

Beastwars have today unleashed upon the world Tyranny Of Distance, the Pōneke metal icons' new studio album of all-Aotearoa covers. Following a scorching run of leadup singles reimagining songs by fellow legends The Gordons, Superette, Snapper and Nadia Reid, Beastwars complete the package with their own sonically intense takes on classics by Marlon Williams, Children's Hour, Julia Deans and The 3Ds — all amplified to humungous scale.

Co-produced by James Goldsmith and the group's Nathan 'Nato' Hickey (also of End Boss), the team of vocalist Matthew Hyde, Hickey, James Woods, and Christian Pearce (subbing in for original member Clayton Anderson) are touring Tyranny Of Distance nationwide from tonight onwards — also celebrating the new 10th anniversary vinyl LP reissue of their 2013 second album Blood Becomes Fire. UTR's Chris Cudby caught up with Hickey for a chinwag about the 15 month process of creating the new record, the dark thematic threads binding these tunes together, the Billboard chart success of their recent cover of Soundgarden's 'The Day I Tried To Live' (on Superunkown Redux), and the album cover artwork's references to the mysterious Kaikōura UFOs...

UPDATE 26/10/23: "OK shitty news for Dunedin — Dive has announced their immediate closure. Luckily for us (and you) Filth Wizard have saved the day and are letting us headline their show at The Crown. Unfortunately there is no space to also fit Night Lunch on the bill — we hope you understand we are doing our best in a less than ideal situation. All tickets still valid but running low."

Tyranny of Distance NZ Album Tour

Friday 13th October - The Musicians Club, Whanganui*
Saturday 14th October - Zeal/The Mayfair, New Plymouth*
Thursday 26th October - Last Place, Hamilton
Friday 27th October - Galatos, Auckland*
Saturday 28th October - San Fran, Wellington*
Friday 3rd November - Loons, Lyttelton w/ Night Lunch
Saturday 4th November - The Crown, Dunedin w/ Filth Wizard [sold out]

Tickets on sale HERE via UTR
*Tickets available HERE

Chris Cudby: Thanks for chatting with me this afternoon and congratulations on being on the Billboard charts!

Nathan 'Nato' Hickey: [laughs] Yeah, that's something I didn't expect.

That's amazing.

It was a pretty cool project to be involved with. Kind of reminded me in the mid '90s there was a Black Sabbath tribute album, it was called Navity In Black. I love that record and I probably heard that record before I'd even heard Black Sabbath properly. Just heaps of great bands doing covers of Black Sabbath. That's kind of what I almost thought this was, a bunch of bunch of bands doing Soundgarden covers. All the bands doing that Black Sabbath album were really popular alternative bands. I suppose just the state of the music industry at the moment, you know, grunge is not as popular as it was. Maybe the bands that were chosen are at the top of their game, just like those other bands were, just not as well known.

I don't remember the Black Sabbath one, but I definitely remember The Carpenters one (If I Were a Carpenter, 1994). Your Soundgarden cover coming out sets the scene pretty well for the new album.

Basically doing that cover was the whole reason this New Zealand covers came about. We hadn't jammed together for a year after our tour in 2021 and then we got asked to do the Soundgarden cover. Because we're all Soundgarden fans we went, ah yep let's just get to get together and do it. We had so much fun jamming together. Working on the song and changing the song and being creative and stuff was fun, but the best part was just hanging out with each other again

Ages ago Matt (Hyde) had told me that he wanted to a cover of 'Dark Child'. We were jamming the Soundgarden thing and it's like, maybe we should look at that idea about doing 'Dark Child' again? Someone else said well what about this song? What about that song? We were like — this is gonna spiral into something a bit bigger than one Marlon Williams cover.

I was super into that Gordons cover that you did — that was a song from the second (never reissued) album, right?

I was a bit too young when that came out. But apparently there was a bit of a backlash, because the original fans of The Gordons thought it (Vol. 2) was too much of a heavy metal album.

I'd never heard that song before. It reminded me of Chrome.

Yeah it's a really cool riff and you can really see early '90s Shihad — where they came from being a thrash metal band into being slightly more industrial sounding. They acknowledged that the Gordons were a huge influence on them. That's kind of where we took our version of the cover. Especially with my drumming, it was like Tom Larkin's drumming on Churn. We did that on all the songs. This is what we're starting from, where can we take it?

That original sounds quite thin and only quite surprisingly new wavy for The Gordons. You guys make it sound like you're just getting crushed by a fucken asteroid.

That was the intention. We just wanted to make it sound like a machine.

Aside from 'Dark Child', are there any other songs on here that you guys have been meaning to cover for a while?

After Matt suggested 'Dark Child', he said — "for my birthday this year (a few years back) instead of having a party or something, I'm going to book a day's recording, and can we record Nadia Reid's 'High and Lonely'?" The idea didn't eventuate, so that song was always on the list.

We all got to choose three. In the past, we've talked about doing covers, not New Zealand covers just covers in general. And we've never been able to agree. So for this record, everyone gets to choose three songs. You got to demo them at home yourself and show that it can be Beastwars-ified. Naturally some songs worked, some songs didn't. We demoed a Straitjacket Fits song, demoed a Fanatics song.


It sounded really good, but we just couldn't get it across the line. We tried a bunch of different stuff and the eight songs that we ended up with, I'm really stoked with. It feels like, even though they're all written by different people and interpreted by us, it still feels like a really cohesive album with a really strong theme going through it.

It's funny that you said 'Beastwars-ified'. Did you find through doing a bunch of covers, over a concentrated period of time — that through making them you were getting to the core of what Beastwars is?

Absolutely. That and what we're capable of, what we could do in the future. There's a few more uptempo tracks on the album — we could totally do a song at this sort of rhythm, this pace in the future. Because we've proved that it works.

What was your role with the new album?

I've co-produced all our records from the very first one, but I've never kind of taken any credit for it. On this one, because it was so much work and I was really proud of it, I put my name on it for the first time as a co-producer. Basically just helped everyone with their demos, tried to get to nut out the essence of the song and was there every single recording session. No matter who was recording us, I was there helping out. James Goldsmith had a lot of great ideas, especially tonally and whatnot. We worked together to make the songs as good as they could be.

Did you need to crack the whip to rally the troops to get started, or was everyone on board from the get go?

That was a slow album. I think we recorded over a 15 month period. A lot of that was trying to track down the lyrics and get approval from the artists. Peter Gutteridge passed away a few years ago and the Snapper song, we had no idea what he was singing. You cannot hear in the original what the lyrics are. We managed to get in touch with his sister... how went through all his old belongings and managed to find his original lyric sheet. She sent us a scan of it. An we're like — oh my god, this is what the song's about. Because we just liked the vibe of the song. We don't know actually what it was what it was about. It was pretty amazing to have that access and support for us to do it.

Did you find any weird connections between the songs that you're covering?

Definitely. Obviously New Zealand music has got quite a dark undertone. Lots of the songs about loneliness and despair and that sort of thing. So we did have this theme running through all the songs.

How did you how did you get Julia Deans involved to sing on the record?

Originally we asked her if she would mind if we covered one of her songs. I asked her on Instagram and she was like "fuck yeah do it." Alright that sounds like a yes. I was think thinking of the chorus for 'Waves' — we really need a female voice on this. Julia's the best vocalist in the country, might as well ask her first. And she was like, "Yeah of course, I'll do it." She recorded it at home, sent us some versions. The amazing high pitched singing at the end, the operatic stuff, she'd just done that once. I got back to her and I said, "that last bit, that is incredible." She said, "I did't know if you'd like so I only did it once." I was like, "can you do it five more times?"

She was quite stoked she got to embrace that side of her, this operatic heavy metal singing.

Did Panhead cover the recording costs of the album?

First of all, we decided that we wanted to do an album and didn't have any money... I called up friends at Panhead in and just went, "Hey, this is what we want to do. What do you think of us hot-rodding some New Zealand songs?" And they went "we love the idea". They've supported us for about ten years now, constantly helping us out with all our New Zealand, Australia tours. Been a huge, huge help with sponsorship.

That is really great. It'd be great to see more local organisations getting involved in and supporting cultural stuff. Especially in New Zealand, we need more of that kind of philanthropy, supporting the amazing artists that are around us.

Very, very lucky. Seriously, the album would not exist if they hadn't have.

The visual side of Beastwars has always been quite incredible. Who did the album cover our work this time around? And actually, who did the poster work as well? Do you give them any instructions?

Key words usually, like what people put into A.I. but we have real artists doing it for us. Nick Keller painted the album artwork. He's done all our covers, and basically talked to him about the idea of loneliness and isolation. But also wanted to tie in the whole story about the Kaikōura UFOs, he's got a nod to that. The stars in the sky he's got a figure eight image, which relates to what the camera person grabbed on the night of the Kaikōura UFOs. The crashed plane on the back cover, I think it's called an Argosy, which is the same type of plane they were flying in when they saw the UFOs.

Right, interesting.

The poster artwork, the illustration was done by Auckland tattoo artist called Spiral Wizard.

What can punters look forward to from your tour in October and November?

We're taking Ripship and Night Lunch along for for the shows. What's going to be cool about this tour is that we're playing all of Blood Becomes Fire the second record in full. There's songs in there we've never even played live before. That's gonna be really exciting, because I think it is a really strong album. Jo be able to play a start to finish — there's songs on there which, once you've got four or five albums, you're always neglecting songs. To be able to go out and play those songs from start to finish. Plus half the record, four or five songs from the new album as well. It's going be really cool to have something super fresh to go alongside the back catalogue stuff.

You guys must be in the practising mode.

We've been practising twice a week for five months, we're just getting everything honed down and remembering how these old songs go.

What's it been like to re-inhabit the mindset of the old songs?

It's being really cool. When you when you forget about something and you go, well, that's actually kind of cool riff. I forgot we even wrote that. Or where did that idea come from? It's like remembering the time it was written.

Do you guys have any overseas tour plans on the horizon?

We're hoping to go back to Australia early next year. Then we had a European tour booked for July 2020. Obviously that got cancelled, so we're trying to get that up and running again for next year. That'll be the goal.

'Tyranny Of Distance' is out today via Destroy Records / Universal — vinyl LP, merch orders and 'Blood Becomes Fire' vinyl LP reissue available HERE.


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Beastwars - Tyranny of Distance NZ Album Tour
Fri 3rd Nov 8:00pm
The Loons, Lyttelton
Beastwars - Tyranny of Distance NZ Album Tour
Sat 4th Nov 8:00pm
The Crown Hotel, Dunedin