I’d never wanted to perform riff-laden music because I didn’t think I could perform it sincerely.
Godsticks blend aggressive rock riffs with progressive intent on their latest LP, Faced With Rage. We caught up with Darran Charles (vocals, guitar), Dan Nelson (bass and backing vocals) and Tom Price (drums) after a successful gig at HRH Prog to talk Pineapple Thief, Chris Cornell, influences, metal, and the joys of being signed to a high-profile label.
(((O))): You’ve recently signed to Kscope. How has this changed things for you?
Darran: Really positive. It was released on 13 October. So far we’ve had a great response. It is great being signed to a record label because the amount of work that we associate with self-releases, you know: you’re in charge of manufacture, the CDs, getting barcodes and things like that. So we’ve had time to concentrate on the promotion and rehearsing for festivals like this.
It’s surprising the amount of work involved as an independent band, and we’ve been independent since 2008 now, until the last album. It’s quite incredible.
Dan: You mention that – I remember when we did Emergence and there was something wrong with the discs. It was up to us to change over every single CD.
Darran: On the last print of the last album there was. . .
Dan: There was skipping on the master.
Darran: Oh yeah, when we had Emergence we had 2,000 copies printing and we were releasing this one ourselves. There was like a nanosecond of each song missing, from the start! We literally had to take the cellophane off each and every one of them, get the CD reprinted, then we went back in to (get them) re-cellophaned.
(((O))): I’m sure when you bought your first guitar that was the moment you were dreaming of!
Darran: [Laughs] Yeah, it was an incredible weekend of distributing all the CDs. So those parts we don’t miss.
(((O))): The new album’s being touted as a progression in your sound. How do you feel the album differs from what you’ve done in the past?
Dan: I think the songs are more concise. I think it was getting there on the last one; it’s about getting to the point, you know we’re more like a normal rock band now, but try to do it a little bit differently. It’s hard to describe – we’d do a verse and a chorus, but maybe our verse would be a little bit longer than you’d associate with a normal rock song. I think that’s why our songs are a bit progressive: we used to just not repeat anything, it was like an unwritten rule. Now it’s like, “We should repeat that”, but we don’t go to “You have to follow this”; we do what we think people want to listen to, now. We opened our ears a bit and thought, “What do other people want to listen to, as opposed to just us?” ‘Cos we’d done that for a long time.
Darran: I remember when we were playing material from not the last album, but the album before, The Envisage Conundrum. We were playing the title track from that album and I remember specifically the moment I was on stage and there was about four or five different changes; and I remember thinking, “If I was watching this myself, I don’t think I’d be enjoying it too much”, because it was chopping and changing too much. We all started to write a little bit thinking about how the songs are going to sound like, whereas before, we couldn’t even give a toss if they could be performed live. Now the thing always in our heads is, “How is this going to sound live?”
Dan: I think we used to be more interested in the studio and now it’s switched and we’re a bit more interested in doing the live thing. The studio is now just where we work out what we’re actually going to play live.
(((O))): The lyrical and thematic side to the band is often quite bleak. Yet on stage you look like you’re having a whale of a time. How is it playing such dark material and enjoying it?
Darran: I just really enjoy playing the new material live. The lyrics, whilst they’re meaningful, it’s the melodies that are the most important thing, for me. So even though the themes might be dark, I don’t necessarily think the melodies are too dark: I think they’re sort of uplifting, in certain passages anyway. I think I just get off on the energy of each song, more than anything else. What do you think, Tom?
Tom: We were just talking about this earlier. There’s been a real conscious effort to think, “We’ve got the song just how we want it to be; now how are we going to give it that little extra something when we play it live?!” We think about our individual performances, putting more energy into the show, trying to get the crowd involved, more interaction with the crowd. Sometimes it’s hard to do but when you really focus on it, try to pursue it and make sure you’re getting the best out of yourself every time it makes for a good live show, and that’s what we need to do and I certainly hope we’ve been succeeding at doing.
Darran: We are genuinely enjoying ourselves on stage, I think, the more we play live. We don’t often get the opportunity to play live – we’d play every day if the opportunity arose.
Darran: We’re a little bit less self-conscious, these days. Even though we rehearse hard and make sure we’re able to perform the material, but at the end we’re less concerned with making sure each song is accurately reproduced as we were in the past. We’re trying to do a live arrangement of the song on the record, more than anything else, these days.
(((O))): You were talking about the melodies and whilst the choruses are sometimes more obvious, but there’s also some interesting tonality going on in your tracks. Often during the bits that aren’t choruses, you’re not expecting the note that follows, which keeps things interesting. When writing using more complex time signatures and tonalities do you have any specific influences? Are there bands that have gone before that you’ve heard and thought, “I like the sound of that”?
Dan: There’s a lot of bands that I don’t think we’re directly influenced by, but we appreciate what they do. Like Soundgarden, and Chris Cornell; he’s a genius, the way he writes without really knowing what he’s doing.
Darran: He’s a case in point when you talk about odd time signatures. When you take apart a Soundgarden song, the genius of Chris Cornell and Soundgarden is you take apart even the simplest of songs and it’s quite pretentious if you were to put it on manuscript paper – the time signatures, and things like that, going on, in just your average Soundgarden song are incredible, just unbelievable. But he never wrote with any intention of doing that. There’s no way he’d have done that. Even harmonically I don’t think. . .
Dan: I remember watching a video of someone analysing the harmonic structure of ‘Black Hole Sun’, it’s just incredible. There’s no way you could sit there thinking, “I’m going to write this chord.” It’s just what he’s hearing.
Darran: We’ve never written a song with the intention of making it sound odd; the only intention is to make it sound as simple as possible. It doesn’t matter to a listener what kind of time signature a track is in, or how many times it changes. In fact, if you notice how many time signatures are going on then you’ve done a poor job of writing the song. I’m not saying we’ve done a great job but that’s the intention.
Tom: I was listening to an ABBA song yesterday, and I had to write it down. And then you start thinking, “There’s a bar of six in there.” I wouldn’t have even thought about it, because the song is so ingrained in your head, you don’t think about it.
(((O))): There are a lot of strong riffs on the new record. Where did that come from?
Darran: Probably for me on the last one, just before Emergence. I myself grew up on rock and metal, that’s what I listened to growing up. So Deep Purple and Black Sabbath and things like that. So I’d always had an affinity to that music. But I’d lost touch with it after the 90s. After Korn. . . do you remember when Korn came out? I really loved Korn.
(((O))): They were brilliant but every band tried to sound like them.
Darran: That’s what happened: when Korn came out, everyone started copying them and it just got boring, and I never listened to that type of music – I didn’t listen to metal for about 10 years. I didn’t even know bands like System Of A Down, who we all discovered. We discovered Mastodon and System Of A Down at the same time, and Devin Townsend as well. And we went, “Hold on, there’s a lot of good metal music about, here.” And I didn’t realise! For the last album I’d say Devin Townsend and Mastodon was an influence on where I am ‘cos they seemed genuine. I’d never wanted to perform riff-laden music because I didn’t think I could perform it sincerely. I didn’t think metal music could be performed sincerely any more because of what I talked about, and all the bands who started to rip off Korn.
(((O))): I’ve been on a similar journey. I loved Sabbath when I was growing up, and Korn, later, but metal, as I reached my mid-teens, just felt a bit immature. I write about electronic music and progressive rock for Echoes and Dust and I got assigned to the metal editor. I thought, “there must be a mistake”, and then I started talking to other writers and realised, in my 30s, “I’m a metal fan!”
Darran: I know! I thought you were supposed to mellow as you got older. But that’s what’s happened to me discovering bands like Meshuggah, as well, loads of different metal bands.
Dan: We ended up going back through the 80s, loads of old bands, like Megadeath. . .
Darran: Megadeath, Anthrax. . .
Darran: Slayer not so much for me, well, actually Reign In Blood. . .
Darran: I always like Metallica, not their later stuff, I don’t think I could be bothered listening to it.
(((O))): We’ve been talking about a lot of different bands. Darran, tell me about Pineapple Thief. You’ve been out on tour with them, both playing guitar with them live and also supporting them as Godsticks.
Darran: I’ve always been friends with Bruce since we opened for them back in about 2011–2012. I didn’t know them then and I didn’t even listen to their music at that time, so I couldn’t say I was a fan. But I watched them live, and we all quite enjoyed it. So I sort of over the years started listening to their music and I’m now a big fan of their music. I like the way Bruce arranges his songs. I’ve always done little bits and bobs, like guitar solos on their previous couple of albums, but on the last album, he wanted to go in a certain direction; we got Gavin Harrison involved, as you well know. Yeah, more and more of my guitar parts found their way onto the album. So when they came to perform it live, they were screwed! They really had no choice to go out as a four-piece.
(((O))): There’s the headline quote: “I screwed Bruce Soord”!
Darran: [Laughs] Yeah, I did. But he had no alternative but to employ me anyway! I really enjoy it: people say, “that must be hard work, doing two sets”, when we went on tour and Godsticks were opening for them. It’s harder for Dan, Tom and Gavin; when you arrive at a venue at 1 o’clock, I get to do two sound checks, two set-ups, I’m never bored. There’s a lot of hanging around, as a support act. I’m always kept busy, so I don’t mind that at all.
(((O))): One last question that I apologise for asking because you’re probably sick of hearing this right now. You’re a good band; you’ve made a number of good records. People are wondering what’s next for you as you don’t seem to be getting the recognition you deserve for your music. What’s stopping you becoming bigger than you are? Is this going to be the album that makes that breakthrough for you?
Darran: I think one of the key things to making it is having people championing your cause and your music a little bit. We have been fortunate to have a lot of support to even still be around now. I think unless people are talking about you, you’re always going to be struggling. You know, it starts to feel great when people like yourself say, “Why aren’t you getting anywhere?” It feels like we’re starting again, though, I think.
Dan: Yeah, I think especially as we’ve got Tom and Gavin, now, and that’s only been 18 months or something, it does feel like we’re starting again. I think we’re noticing from playing live, as well, that we’ve just had a better vibe, after gigs, thinking, “Do you know what? We’ve come across well there.” You can tell that someone who came into the gig thinking “I don’t think I’m going to like these”; you can see as we come offstage, people who have been getting more and more into it, and thinking that’s why we make that effort.
Darran: I think we’ve all now got a confidence about us, these days, and I think when we go on stage, we will win people over. Because we like playing together, we enjoy playing the music, we believe in the music, too. So I think there’s a lot of positivity when we go on stage now, and I think it’s got a lot to do with these type of festivals, and touring with bands like Pineapple Thief, we will win more and more people over to the point where at some point, maybe not too far in the distant future, we’ll be doing headline tours ourselves. We haven’t got massive ambitions to be a stadium-sized band, but if we can carry 200–300 people to a gig, then I’d consider myself successful, to be honest with you.
Godsticks play The Fusion Festival in Stourport on 31 March. Main photo: Eleanor James