03 Feb 2008

Interview - Stone Gods

+ posted by FlamingWhopper

Stone Gods have a lot to live up to - or a big shadow to step out from under, depending on how you look at it, as they are a reincarnation of The Darkness without the latter band’s flamboyant frontman.

Stone Gods seem to nurse no sense of privilege, however; nor are they bitter. In fact, they were a joy to interview after their soundcheck at Portsmouth’s Wedgewood Rooms. There was a genuine sense of camaraderie and enthusiasm that you rarely get from younger bands, let alone musicians who’ve been through the mill once already - and who have the scars to prove it.

So read on to discover what Stone Gods had to say about the recording of their forthcoming album, touring with Thin Lizzy, pan-pipe buskers in shopping precincts, and the rock and roll virtues of the Waitrose deli counter.


TDP: So, how’s the tour been going so far?

Ed Graham [drums]: Yeah, it’s been good, it’s been great fun. We don’t have a single out yet, but the venues have been over half to nearly full every night, so we’re doing pretty well, I think. We’ve had some good reviews, good responses.

Richie Edwards [vox, guitar]: Yeah, really good, actually. We’re having some fun at the moment.

TDP: Care to elaborate on this “fun”?

Richie Edwards: [laughs] It’s just great to be out touring, basically. We’ve been holed up in the studio since the tail-end of 2006, writing and making a record and then rehearsing, so just to be out on the road and playing live is excellent. It’s like the cage has been opened, and we’ve all come running out, teeth a-snarling …

Dan Hawkins [lead guitar]: It feels really real now, doesn’t it? When you put a band together and record an album, it’s almost like a virtual experience, you know?

Ed Graham: There’s been quite a lot of high spirits, drinking, going out … having all kinds of larks!

TDP: How did the album sessions go, then?

Richie Edwards: Great! I knew it would sound good when it was finished, but to be honest I was knocked out by just how good it was, really. Dan and his co-producer Nick [Bryant] did an outstanding job of taking some really good songs and somehow making them even better. And sonically, it’s up there with the greats, it’s incredible. I was blown away by it – I didn’t have low expectations, by any means, but any expectation I did have we’re blown clean out of the water.

Dan Hawkins: We wanted to make one of those really big rock albums, y’know - like Back In Black, or The Black Album by Metallica, or Appetite For Destruction. And the amount of effort that goes into doing that on the engineering side of it is … well, like six months of sixteen hour days, basically. But it was all worth it though – we’re really happy with it. We’ve taken it to the nth degree, really, as far as the big rock albums go, and it’s come out really well.

Ed Graham: I spent what seemed like ages, must have been two weeks or more, just playing the drums while Dan got the drum sound sorted …

Dan Hawkins: After two weeks we decided we weren’t quite there, it was about 90% right, so we just scrapped it all and started again. It’s that kind of album.

Ed Graham: At the time, I was getting frustrated, y’know, I just wanted to record, to get going …

Richie Edwards: You just wanted to f*ck off back to London!

[laughter]

Ed Graham: “Can I go home yet?” [laughs] But it did pay off, and on some of the Darkness material, the drums might have been quieter … basically it sounds better than anything we’ve done before.

Richie Edwards: I think everyone’s really proud of it. We all worked hard on writing and recording the thing, and I think it’s like anything in life – you reap what you sow. The hard work that people have put in has paid dividends, really.

TDP: So what’s the songwriting process, then?

Richie Edwards: All four of us will be sat down just like this around a table, with a pad of paper, couple of acoustic guitars and we’ll just come up with a song, thrash it around, come up with some words. Then take it and very very quickly demo it on a ProTools rig … and then leave it for a while. How many did we end up with in the end? It was something ridiculous like mid-twenties …

Dan Hawkins: There were thirty-eight song titles at one point, and we actually demo’d about twenty. And then sixteen of those were worked on for the album, thirteen of which made it on to the finished item. So we’ve got quite a high output of songs, really. The left-over ones are really good songs, it’s just that they didn’t quite fit into the album.

It was a very diverse range of stuff – we had maybe three or four that sounded like Creedence [Clearwater Revival], because we’re all well into that, we love Creedence - so that should bring a bit of light and shade to the B-sides and the EPs, as well.

TDP: I heard the Burn The Witch EP [read the review here], and I noticed it was very diverse, lots of different touchstones. Do you find that, where you’re all bringing ideas in, you end up playing favourites?

Dan Hawkins: Not as much as in the previous bands I’ve been in. Back then there’d always be one or two sings that were just my absolute favourites way above everything else …

Ed Graham: I like all of them, really – maybe some a little bit more than others …

Dan Hawkins: I do love playing “Burn The Witch”, playing the outro section of that.

Ed Graham: From a playing point of view I like the darker and heavier bits, but I like the lighter stuff as well.

Richie Edwards: We’ve rehearsed every track that’s on the album as well as the B-sides when we were putting everything together for a live set, and there’s certainly nothing where we’re like “ugh, I really don’t wanna have to play this one”.

Dan Hawkins: Each one’s got some riff moments in it that might just happen in, say, the second verse, and then that riff disappears and doesn’t come back again, like in “Make It Hard” for instance, so they’re quite long and complicated and you need to be on your game, really.

[At this point Ed’s mobile phone cuts loose with the most twee and chirpy sub-Disney ringtone known to mankind.]

Richie Edwards: Maybe switch it off, Ed? That’d be the best thing, I’d have thought …

TDP: Or alternatively tell the pygmy tribe who live inside it to take a hike …

[laughter]

Dan Hawkins: Yeah, and to take the pan pipes with ‘em!

TDP: The rainforests need you …

Dan Hawkins: That’s why your rainforests are disappearing, because you’re all in people’s phones …

Richie Edwards: They only come out on Saturdays to go busking at shopping centres!

Ed Graham: First night of the tour I had my phone stolen, so I’m left with this cheap pay as you go thing. When you talk into it, your ear presses all the buttons, and you can’t lock the keypad … I’ll get rid of it soon!

TDP: Y’know, we have those pan-pipe guys around here, too.

Richie Edwards: What I don’t get is how they’re everywhere, all on the same Saturday, so there must be literally hundred of them all up and down the country. Some of them are very talented, though …

TDP: So, are you guys hugely influenced by pan-pipe players?

Richie Edwards: [dead-pan] Oh, yeah. Well, we probably are subconsciously, because we hear it so often.

Dan Hawkins: I think it’s all about subliminal messages that they’re drumming into you …

Richie Edwards: Yeah, like “buy our CD”!

[laughter]

TDP: So, how was supporting Thin Lizzy for you guys?

Dan Hawkins: Great! Scott Gorham’s been a mate of mine for quite some time now … it was great to play the NEC, too.

Richie Edwards: Oh, they were on fire as well, weren’t they?

Dan Hawkins: Yeah - I was really surprised at John Sykes’ vocals, y’know? To be quite honest, with the Thin Lizzy line-up, you’re always a bit dubious about who’s going to be singing and why, about their credentials … if you’re a serious fan perhaps you won’t even go to see that line-up. But I was really really impressed with him, it was just spot on.

Richie Edwards: I was surprised too. Like Dan was saying, I’m very very dubious about reformations and bands that carry on touring after their prime. And it’s so iconic – I mean, to a lot of people for all intents and purposes, Phil Lynott was Thin Lizzy. I certainly wouldn’t have gone to watch the band in its current incarnation, but how wrong was I? Because from the first show I was totally knocked out - such amazing guitar players, those two. [to Dan] You started a pit a Cambridge, didn’t you? Much to the annoyance of the fifty-somethings standing down the front!

Dan Hawkins: [laughs] Yeah, I was right down the front, jumping up and down, waving at [John] Sykes and shouting, and I was sure he was looking at me an laughing, y’know. It was the first and probably the last mosh-pit they had on the whole tour … and the next day as I wandered I was like “hey guys, did you enjoy the mosh-pit last night?” and they were like “er … oh, was that you, was it?” [laughs] They didn’t even see me! That’s Jack Daniel’s for you …

Richie Edwards: Yeah, so if anyone’s thinking of going to see Thin Lizzy these days and is put off by the fact that it’s not the band as it was – don’t be. Just go and check ‘em out. They’re red hot … Tommy Aldridge on drums as well, he’s unbelievable. The most ridiculous drumkit I’d ever seen … but he was brilliant. There was even a drum solo in there. You hate drum solos, don’t you Ed?

Ed Graham: I’m not overly keen on them, no.

TDP: A drummer who doesn’t like drum solos? This man is surely an imposter!

[laughter]

Ed Graham: That’s a bit harsh! To be honest, I wouldn’t just sit and listen to a drum solo on a record.

TDP: Oh, come on! I bet you have really, if you’re honest …

Ed Graham: Well, I used to listen to Jimi Hendrix a lot when I was younger, so I probably listened to some drum solos then. Sometimes they can be great, but sometimes they can be horribly self-indulgent.

TDP: Well that brings us neatly to asking about your influences. Who were the bands that got you into playing your respective instruments?

Ed Graham: Well, when I was fifteen or whatever, I was more of a grunger, so it was all Nirvana, Mudhoney, stuff like that. My drumming’s probably influenced by Dave Grohl without really thinking about it, that’s just what I used to listen to all the time …

Dan Hawkins: I really liked Sonic Youth, as well.

Ed Graham: Gothy stuff, too; The Cult, The Cure …

Richie Edwards: I just loved everything, really!

TDP: So you were some sort of musical slag?

Richie Edwards: Oh, absolutely! With a couple of exception, though, y’know.

Dan Hawkins: I was into the really heavy stuff when I was about fourteen, like Deicide, stuff like that. That was back when I was a drummer, though – I probably got into more musical stuff after that.

[Bass player Toby MacFarlaine arrives from doing another phone interview out in the corridor and takes a seat.]

TDP: What about bands that are out there at the moment? Any young bands you’d like to snap up as support acts?

Richie Edwards: We had some guys supporting us in Glasgow the other night called White Ace. They’re barely eighteen years old but they’re the most incredible players and really lovely guys. I went to have a look at them when they went on and I was totally blown away. I found their EP in my suitcase just this morning and banged it on in my computer, and it’s really f*cking good. It may be a little bit naοve in places, but give those guys a year, or a bit of time with someone who can shape them a little bit, and they’ll be knock-outs.

But as for other bands, I don’t know, I don’t really follow the scene much, don’t actively seek things out and find out what’s hot and what’s not, y’know. I very rarely listen to anything post-1979, really! [laughs] Toby, you’re probably more in touch with modern stuff, what bands do you like?

Toby MacFarlaine: I loved that band Smilex the other night. They were a bit like a Scratch Acid, Jesus Lizard type of thing. They’re named after the drug that the Joker puts on everyone in the first Batman movie … they were awesome.

Ed Graham: There’s that band of four girls as well, called Joan Of Arc, and they’re really good – wouldn’t mind playing with them some time.

Richie Edwards: There’s also Serpico who’re out with us at the moment. They missed the last few shows because the drummer injured his hand, but they’re back tonight. They’re really good, a vibey energetic sort of band.

Dan Hawkins: It’s a really interesting mix – one minute it’s a shouty angsty thing, then they’ll just launch into some really good riffs. But their songs aren’t traditionally based, either – they’ll be telling you something one minute and then they’ll just go off on a riffing spree.

Richie Edwards: We’ve been lucky on this tour, we’ve had some really good supports.

TDP: What would you say your biggest limitation is, as a band?

Toby MacFarlaine: Gotta be my gammy foot!

Richie Edwards: Yeah, Toby’s foot.

Dan Hawkins: It just means we’ll never be able to have a decent football team …

[laughter]

Dan Hawkins: Wasn’t it J Mascis who was saying that a band is the sum total of its limitations? That’s what makes you good – if you can do absolutely anything and everything, the you’ve got no identity, have you?

Ed Graham: It’s true; sometimes bands play in a certain style because they can. Perhaps we don’t need to go jazz or whatever …

Toby MacFarlaine: God forbid! Are you sure you haven’t got a secret desire to do a bit of jazz?

Ed Graham: I hate jazz!

TDP: Doesn’t like drum solos, doesn’t like jazz … have you thought of trading Ed in for a sampler?

[laughter]

Toby MacFarlaine: Never!

TDP: So what’s your strength, then? What have you guys got that no one else has?

Dan Hawkins: I think that we’re very close, as friends and as a unit. That chemistry, that “x factor” thing you have in bands where you are complete as a unit … I think that’s our biggest strength. Because it means that no matter what sort of sh*thole we’re in, how little money we have or how unsuccessful we’re going to be, it’s always going to be this much fun.

Ed Graham: Sometimes I don’t feel that professional, but then I look at what other bands get up to and I realise that maybe we are, we are quite hard-working and professional.

Richie Edwards: Yeah – another strength is that we’re not afraid of hard work. And also I think each of us is quite a nice bloke – I mean, in this business you can meet a right load of w*nkers sometimes.

Ed Graham: A lot of bands end up beating each other up, don’t they?

Richie Edwards: Oh, it can happen …

Ed Graham: We might have come close once or twice …

[laughter]

TDP: I suppose a lot of this comes from you having learned a lot of things the hard way?

Ed Graham: There is an element of that, with the second time round, the politics we’ve had to endure …

Dan Hawkins: It’s keeping those communication channels open at all times that’s really important … not letting anyone go off into their own little world about something they’re pissed off about. We have a very much “cards on the table” attitude – if someone’s feeling a certain way, it’s out there – or it’s dragged out there by someone else!

TDP: OK, it’s time for the obligatory silly question to end with …

Ed Graham: It’s not about cheese, is it?

TDP: It’s not about cheese, no … I’ve never done a cheese question, maybe I should try that some time?

Richie Edwards: Roquefort!

TDP: Oh, you have a favourite cheese?

Richie Edwards: F*cking right! It’s a blue cheese, really expensive …

Ed Graham: Now he’s answering it, and it hasn’t even been asked!

[laughter]

TDP: This is dynamite copy, no one would have thought to crack the cheese question …

Dan Hawkins: I used to like Brie, but I can’t stand it any more.

Richie Edwards: Can I just say that someone pointed out to me that the skin of Brie smells like spunk!

Ed Graham: I’ve heard people say that before, yeah …

Richie Edwards: So I had a sniff, but obviously I have no idea what spunk smells like!

[laughter]

TDP: So, anyway, back to my original weird question …

Ed Graham: I quite like that Swiss cheese with the holes in.

Richie Edwards: Oooh, Emmental!

Dan Hawkins: And I like that one, what’s it called, Mull Of Kintyre.

Richie Edwards: From the deli counter at Waitrose?

Dan Hawkins: That’s the one!

TDP: Ah-ha, you shop at Waitrose! I knew we’d get on!

Dan Hawkins: I f*cking love Waitrose!

[laughter]

Dan Hawkins: Look, I live on a farm in Norfolk, and I work very hard with the band and in the studio, but basically the only time I go out is to Waitrose, maybe like three or four times a week. I even know the manager, and I get invited to those food-tasting evenings …

TDP: Three or four times a week, though – that’s not doing great things for your carbon footprint!

Dan Hawkins: Oh, no I cycle there.

TDP: My apologies, I take it all back.

Richie Edwards: Yeah, cycles there in his bloody great Jeep Cherokee!

[laughter]

TDP: OK, so the actual surreal question I meant to ask was this. The aliens have invaded, they’re wanting to build a hyperspace bypass and destroy the Earth in the process, but you four are picked as advocates to argue for the survival of the human race. What do you tell them?

Dan Hawkins: Just blow the f*cker up! Just take ‘er out, it’s a shambles; we’ve made a mess of this planet and it’s time to start again.

Toby MacFarlaine: Give us four somewhere new to start with, though!

Richie Edwards: Yeah, we should have a little pod or something to live in for a while.

Dan Hawkins: Right, but then just nuke the hell out of it!

Toby MacFarlaine: We should probably take some of our friends with us, as well.

TDP: Some women might be handy from a long-term perspective, surely?

Ed Graham: That’s a bit like a Bond film plot, isn’t it, Moonraker? They get an elite race of men and women to breed from and they’re going to destroy the Earth to repopulate it …

Richie Edwards: Do you really think that if they were collecting an elite race of men that they’d take any of us?

Toby MacFarlaine: Well, but we’ve been randomly picked, haven’t we?

Dan Hawkins: I don’t know if any of the rhythm section would be involved, really! [laughter] … but no, it’s easy, just pick us, pick Girls Aloud and let us get on with it. We’ll run the next planet, no problems.

Ed Graham: Yup, that works - just us and Girls Aloud, in a pod, with some plants and food.

Toby MacFarlaine: And a Waitrose deli counter …

Dan Hawkins: Oh my god, yes! A biocentre, like a Waitrose biocentre! Can we go now?

TDP: You’ve got a gig to play …

Dan Hawkins: Ah, screw it, blow that up as well.

[laughter]

Richie Edwards: The only downside with taking us and Girls Aloud is that there’s four of us but there’s five of them, so one of them’s always going to feel left out …

TDP: On that note, I think it’s time I left you to it! Thanks for your time, guys, and good luck with the show.

Credit: www.rock-metal-music-reviews.com

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