Interview – Dead Sea Apes on Warheads

Warheads is a unique collaboration between Stockport’s kings of heavy space noise Dead Sea Apes and the artist Adam Stone, described on bandcamp as:

Classic British pessimism and speculative dystopian fiction entwine with morbid social commentary and a long piss-streak of bleak humour. This is a claustrophobic and self-contained world where paranoid bunker mentality goes for a Pot Noodle with a faded society always teetering on the brink of collapse, ranting street-punk drops bad acid, and Space Station fuses with Bus Station.
Standing their ground in a dirty jumbled junkyard between Robert Calvert’s schizoid Hawkwind monologues, Dead Kennedys’ stinging cranked-up racket, Gil Scott-Heron’s rhythmic social polemic, Butthole Surfers’ deep-brain-fried psychpunk and John Cooper Clarke’s wry wit.

We were lucky to catch up with Mr Brett Savage, head honcho of Dead Sea Apes to go deep into Warheads; where it came from, how it happened and lot, lots more!

While reading, why not listen to the full album on bandcamp, you can listen to it right here and at £8 it’s a bargain for a masterpiece of the modern age.

Ok, tell us about Warheads – what is it and why should we buy it?

Warheads is the first proper full album that we have made with Adam Stone. We had worked
with Adam a couple of times before and thought that this really was a natural progression.
Although it is very much a collaboration, I see Warheads as being an Adam Stone album,
where Dead Sea Apes are his house band. I kinda see our collaborations with Adam in the
same way that Michael Moorcock worked with Hawkwind, or how when Robert Calvert
dragooned in Hawkwind members to play on his solo work, that kind of arrangement. We
don’t share a squat in Ladbroke Grove, though.

How, when and why did you first start working with Adam Stone?

We first met Adam at a show at the sadly now defunct Kunst Gallery (R.I.P) in Belper. The
shows used to follow a loose mixed media approach where a band would normally follow
someone doing a spoken word performance. Adam had told me that his performance would
be a dystopian monologue where he toyed with the idea of analog synth noises burbling
away in the background as he delivers his intergalactic status report. I idly suggested that I
wouldn’t mind adding a few ad hoc noises live whilst he played, not giving much thought as
to what that would entail. As it got closer to the show, I asked Chris Hardman (drums) if he
would help me construct a drone in the background to complement my synthy warbles (Chris
is a sound engineer for the Beeb by trade). So, when it came around to doing the
performance, Chris did some live manipulation of the drone whilst I added some improvised
noises on the synth. Feeling a little left out, our bass player Nick (who has since left for
pastures new) started to pick up his bass and join in. Now, Chris records everything for
posterity and the performance was very well received, so Cardinal Fuzz suggested that we
release it as a one-sided vinyl, which was released as ‘In The Year 2039’.
At the time, we were putting ‘Sixth Side Of The Pentagon’ together. We had discussed
bringing other voices into the album. We had also discussed how ‘Sixth Side’ should reflect
our geopolitical views in some way (which is pretty tricky as an instrumental band, believe
me). Adam is both a political and sociological lecturer. Given how impressed we were with
his stand out performance, it almost seemed like the stars had aligned to bring us all

How did the full album come about?

After ‘Sixth Side’ was finished, we always knew that we would want to maintain a creative
relationship with Adam (who wouldn’t?), We had done a live version of ‘Tentacles’ with Adam,
so we knew that we could get things together in the rehearsal room and that it did seem that
the next logical step would be to do an album together.
Seeing as Dead Sea Apes have generally worked within the instrumental spectrum,
how was the change to working with a vocalist?
I suppose all of us had been in bands with vocalists before, so it didn’t really seem that odd,
and especially as we had done live stuff with Adam, we were pretty much comfortable in
each other’s presence. Adam really took the bit between his teeth.

Did DSA make the music to fit the words, did Adam write around the music? Just how
collaborative was the process? How long did the album take to write and record –
from a production point of view it sounds like a million dollars.

At the point where we started Warheads (which was originally going to be titled Ancoats
Community Centre Raga Workshop), Nick had left the band to start his own business, so Dead Sea Apes was just Chris and I. Our usual process of writing in Dead Sea Apes is to do
long jams; listen back, pick out stuff that we like, drop in any creative suggestions or
directions and develop it from there. We knew that Adam was only there for a limited time,
but it just seemed to flow naturally. Adam had a few pointers where he wanted it to go but
gave us all the space for it to be processed through the DSA machine and then just picked
up the baton and ran wherever it went. Alternatively, Chris and I would start working up a riff
or an idea, and Adam would conjure something from his big black ring bound book of words
– which was perhaps more in keeping with our usual methodology. Nothing seemed to faze
Adam though, he was always more than up to the task.
I honestly thought that Adam would do a series of monologues and spoken word pieces in
the Moorcock/Cooper Clarke style, but he obviously had a bit of latent vocalist waiting to
bust out of him.

As for how the album sounds, well… that’s all down to Chris’s consummate skill as producer,
engineer and musician. Everything that we record is recorded in the rehearsal room, but you
would never know given how good Chris with his production. Personal biases aside, he is
pretty bloody amazing.

I love the album art! Who designed it and what does it mean? Is it partly a reference to
The Thing?

That’s all Adam’s work. He has a massive collection of grotesque, amusing and insightful
stunning drawings that we could pull from. Presumably, he draws these in lesson times
when he’s meant to be marking exercise books.

The first track is huge surprise, sounding as it does, like the Dead Kennedy’s! Where
did that come from??

Again, some of the steers came from Adam. He envisioned that kind of nexus of psychedelic
punk, punks on acid vibe – Hawkwind, Chrome, Butthole Surfers etc but I think his inner
Jello was maybe activated by the surf-y East Bay Ray-ness of the opening riff? He had the
germ of an idea but it quickly got recomputed by Chris and I.

I love the groove on ‘Retreat To Your Bunker’! The bass reminds me of ‘Telephone
Thing’; by The Fall!

Well spotted, that man. We sketched out the song without a bassline, so I had suggested a
sort of Gil Scott Heron type of thing which is kind of reflected in the bass line that Chris (who
is, coincidentally, a huge fan of The Fall) came back with.
I’m kind of put in mind of the beginning of Frankie’s Two Tribes with this song. We resisted
the temptation to record it whilst wearing white vests, though. We are children of the 80’s
after all, and the fear of nuclear annihilation was ever present after being fed the nightmare
fuel of Threads, When The Wind Blows and any number of worryingly sober public
information films.

Parts of the album don’t sound anything like Dead Sea Apes, how was it playing
totally new styles?

That was quite a refreshing break in all honesty. I think that with Warheads, we were given
the chance to play around with styles and themes a bit, whereas with DSA (and without
trying to sound pretentious), the sound pretty much comes straight from the heart.

PiL’s Metal Box is an obvious comparison for me, with Adam as the sermonising John

Well, I think Adam had kind of picked up that PiL are a big influence for us, as I think it is for
is for him. As far as the sermonising goes, especially with ‘Reduced To Zero’, I think that he is
plugging into some real contemporary anxieties with how KPI and ‘target culture’ have
pervaded every aspect of everyday life. That’s how I read it, anyway. I’m sure that he’d be
able to explain it a lot more eloquently.

One of the things I like most about DSA is how a track on an album tends to pave the
way for the album after. ‘The Sixth Side Of The Pentagon’ is the gateway to the album of the same name, on which ‘Tentacles’; sets the precedent for Warheads. I love how your discog is like tumbling down a rabbit hole. Can you tell us about this creative process and how deliberately you set out to make this chain?

There is always a bit of a time lag between when an album is released and what you are
working on currently, so it can feel like a bit like that we are all over the place with ideas but I
like to think that there is some consistency. The idea with DSA is to try and filter our
influences organically and variedly through our music. I like to think that we avoid being
generic or being too keen to hop on whichever vogueish influence comes into circulation. I
always thought that input = output. Opening yourself up to lots of music fills your head with a
wider set of ideas to process and percolate down to your own sounds. We’ve always been
keen to share music between us.
I think a lot the ideas have developed over time, too. Dub is something that cropped up
pretty early with us as a band. I’ve always been interested where that intersects with rock
music e.g The Clash, PiL, The Pop Group etc. We also came of age in the 90’s where
remixes were the norm as B-sides and stuff and they were often pretty dubby, especially
from the likes of Adrian Sherwood, The Orb and Andrew Weatherall etc. Also factor in the
way bands like Massive Attack, Little Axe and others who would introduce quite leftfield
guitar ideas to be reprocessed that through dubby production. At the same time, there was a
reissue label called Blood & Fire, who reissued lots of classic dub and roots reggae albums
(partly funded by Mick Hucknall, I hastened to add. Mick Hucknall clearly played a huge role
in my musical development. I need to let that sink in!) – so a lot of that filtered into my
unconsciousness. I’m not sure about Chris, but I’m sure the innovative production work of
King Tubby would have piqued his interest quite early on. He has pretty expansive listening
tastes in any case.

What was the idea behind splitting the track ‘The Sixth Side Of The Pentagon’; through the album, splintering it in time? That song seems like a real creative turning point. The bass on that reminds me of ‘Love Lies Limp’; by Alternative TV.

The initial idea of doing a full album in a total dub style was Nick’s, after we had released
Spectral Domain, where we’d done an extended dub track called ‘Sixth Side Of The
Pentagon’ (the title of which was nabbed from a short film by Chris Marker. The title seemed
to suggest that slightly paranoid occulty/conspiracy/deep state vibe that shot through Spectral Domain). From what I remember, Chris had started to take little sections out of the
larger jam that became ‘Sixth Side…’ (the song) which became the thematic interludes in the
album. It did suggest itself from there. I always saw it like cutting little cultures off from some
mould and letting it develop in the Petrie dish of the rehearsal room, which is admittedly
pretty mouldy. It is definitely one of my favourite things that DSA have done.

Going back further, Lupus is a bloody bleak album isn’t it?

It is a little! But, if you think Lupus is bleak, wait until you hear our new album, The Free
Territory. It sounds like The Beach Boys in comparison!

How and when did the band first get together and what was the first release? How do
you look back on it? Also… why Dead Sea Apes?

We got together as a band way back in 2009 on one of those internet dating sites for
musicians. So, 10 years ago this year! The first thing that we released was a self-released
EP called Soy Dios, which got re-released on our forever home of Cardinal Fuzz a couple of
years ago. Its hard to get any perspective on looking back on it, as its always been a part of
our set, so never really went away for us. To be honest, that got us quite a bit of positive
attention at the time, so its hard to look on it with anything but fondness.
10 years has flown by at a rate of knots and a lot has happened in that time, sometimes
without us even noticing it. What we have done is built a back catalogue of records that we
are really proud of. We’ve also managed to play lots of great shows and connect with loads
of really nice people in the meantime
One of our founder members, Nick left last year to set up his own business, so that was a
tough time until we could find someone to step into his big shoes. But we’ve found Mr Jack
Toker on bass, whose fitted like a glove. We have also expanded the line up by taking Mr
Alistair Reid (also in Manchester based Surfy-garage rockers Thee Windom Earles) on keys.
As for the name, Dead Sea Apes are a fabled group of Dead Sea dwellers who turned their
ears from God and got turned into Apes for their lack of faith. They then went on to develop
their own brand of instrumental rock on the shoreline. It seemed as good a name as any.

For the tech-heads, what guitars and pedals do you use?

Man, you must be something of a masochist for asking me that question, as I’ve got a fair old
sized pedal board on the go. My favourite pedal of them all is called the Interstellar
Overdriver by Death By Audio which is just divine. Wasn’t cheap though! I do swear by the
Echo Machine by Behringer, I swear by them enough to have two of them on the go at any
one time. They are cheap and cheerful clones with slightly shoddy build quality, but they are
amazing. I’d consider having a third if that wasn’t ridiculous.
I generally have to take 3 guitars with me everywhere we play because I do like to play in
lots of different tunings. It does look a bit extravagant to the untrained eye, but there is no
way I’m doing the silly tuning work that would be required between each song.
If you are still awake at this point, I play a Guild Bluesbird, jerry rigged with a Bigsby tremolo
as my main guitar (which I absolutely LOVE!). As for my others they are Squiers and
Epiphones, which as much as they are budget range guitars, I don’t really see or hear any
difference in them to their more expensive siblings and love them equally.

What’s next for the Apes from the Black Sea?

Well, considering that we had such a long time out of the loop, we are coming out swinging.
We did manage to keep the wheels rolling by releasing a compilation of odd’s and sods called
Recondite and Warheads whilst we were a two piece. We also have been finishing off our
new record, The Free Territory. We started it back as a 3 piece but have worked on it ever
since. It was originally meant to be a cassette release, so we did some of the recordings to
tape and is full of spooky tape hiss for added atmosphere. Tonally, its much more in the
same place as Lupus. It is a lot darker, introspective and a bit more experimental. It has
some full band tracks and others pieced together over time. We also managed to rope in Nik
Rayne from one of our favourite bands, The Myrrors to play on it. He was staying at mine for
a short while, so we made him sing for his supper, so to speak. This album will be kind of an
end piece of the original line up of Dead Sea Apes too. Nick, our original bass player left to
open B’Spoke café in Heaton Mersey (good luck, Nick!).
So, that takes us up to where we’re up to now. We have a new line up with Al and Jack. On
Jack’s first rehearsal, we had a couple of jams with Nik Rayne and those are coming out on
vinyl towards the end of the year for those of you who enjoy free-form extended pieces. We
are also writing new stuff that sees us going off in new directions, hopefully we’ll start to get
that recorded next year – but we are going to be giving them a run out at a few upcoming
gigs that we have in May/June.
We have also got a gig booked in Belper with Adam Stone (does ASDSA sound like a good
band name to you?). We’ve also recorded some tracks for a 7” which will come out with the
next issue of Optical Sounds.
Thank you for asking the questions – and putting up with the long answers!

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