Interview: Dark Sky Burial/Napalm Death
This just seems like a really natural thing for me to be doing and it’s not that different to some of the more experimental Napalm songs. It just deals with different sounds.
Napalm Death bassist Shane Embury has always had a myriad of side projects on the go. From Blood From The Soul and Meathook Seed to Lock Up, Brujeria and Venomous Concept all the way through to Tronos, Shane has always kept himself busy releasing music. His latest endeavour Dark Sky Burial, is an ambient project years in the making, who have just released their debut album. Gavin Brown had a chat with Shane in his studio via video link to hear all about Dark Sky Burial and how the album was created and what influenced it as well as the new Napalm Death album, how this pandemic will affect bands, memories with John Peel and Ronnie James Dio and the best curry in Birmingham!
E&D: Your latest project tDark Sky Burial have just released their debut album De Omnibus Dubitandum Est. How did the creation of the album go?
Shane: It took a while, a few years I’ve wanted to do stuff like this and I tried to kick it off in ’93 or ’94 in the Atari ST days and I started, but Napalm was so busy it got the bump. Of course, technology moves on and myself and a few of my friends have gone to do stuff so it’s always been in the back of my head and I wanted to kickstart my ambient adventures so the last couple of years, I’ve been getting into sounds and watched a few tutorials. I’ve been a fan of horror films for years and just putting a lot of loops together. This records got thirteen tracks on it and we probably did about forty or fifty pieces of music.
E&D: The stuff that you didn’t use, will you use that for future releases?
Shane: Yeah, that’s what’s going to happen. I’d play tracks to friends and some would say they like the more beat orientated stuff, but I thought if I just did that completely, to me, it would be a bit boring. I hope it’s going to go on for a long time really, it’s a bit of soul therapy for me! I’m working on a second album already.
E&D: With this lockdown, has that given you time to work on any musical ideas if you’ve got the time?
Shane: It does because my wife’s very supportive in that manner. It’s been a bit tough, now that the kids are meant to go back to school, the home schooling is a crazy one. I mean, she’s very spoiled in that spectrum, I’m quite an insane character, so if I don’t get this done I’ll start stressing! This is where it’s all done [shows round studio], it’s where the Napalm drummer lives as well, this is our old house from back in the band days. We kept it on and he’s here most of the time anyway. Most of the studio, as you can see, is here anyway. I’m down here most days and it’s not far from where I live. I’m doing what I’m normally doing still to be honest! I don’t see anybody! It’s given me time to get stuff together. People are reaching out to me about doing this project or that project so there a few little things. For me, I love loops and this is something I’ve been wanting to get into for a while. I love the music from horror films, that mellow music with an eerie edge so that’s what I wanted to do. I think the plan is at the moment, is to do an album every three months. The friend who did the album cover, did four covers for me so I’ve got that ready and I’ll do a CD and LP boxset and it’ll be similar, The beats are cool but I like the whole Lucio Fulci isolating vibe.
E&D: So, was it what Goblin did and John Carpenter, that atmospheric vibe, is what you were looking for with this project?
Shane: Yeah, I love that kind of things do to some degree it was. One track is called ‘The Shadow Takes Shape’, that’s got a weird almost dark Cocteau Twins vibe to it in a way, but yeah, there’s an obvious John Carpenter influences and some of the Goblin stuff. I always thought that when I watched the Italian horror movies as a youngster, they seemed cold and distant, different to British horror movies and that left an impression. It seemed to veer off into this other world where the music seemed like everything was like extra dimensional with the darker and ambient music and I wanted to try and create that mood.
E&D: Were you watching old or new films while you were recording get to get inspiration for it and how did the actual recording process go?
Shane: Not necessarily, I read a few books here and there. What I’m doing is is I would just find a sound and I’d just start with a 345 loop and I’d take it from there. There are so many sounds available that will inspire me to carry on. I was inspired by the likes of Gates Of Hell or The Beyond. That scene at the end, when they finally arrive in hell. A lot of it is from memory because I haven’t watched a lot of those movies in a while.
E&D: Did they have a bigger effect on you when you were like growing up and watching?
Shane: I love horror movies. I think about it a lot. It’s a strange thing and it sounds dramatic, you know, my dad passed away a few years ago and the Tronos record came out and we’d been working on that a long time. I’m not really a political sort of person like Barney is with Napalm, I’m just a bit of a thinker and escapist, and it all got mushed into this big thing where I was like, Where are we going? Where are we from? So, when I did these tracks, I think a lot and it helps me look at life and I’ve got a big window here and I’m looking out and it’s therapeutic to me and vital for making music. When I grew up, I watching the Hammer movies, my parents would go to the social club and I’d be watching Dracula Has Risen From The Grave when I shouldn’t be, at the age of six or seven because the babysitter would let me! That’s just a big part of me, most of us are big kids aren’t we in some ways but I still am a horror fan. This just seems like a really natural thing for me to be doing and it’s not that different to some of the more experimental Napalm songs. It just deals with different sounds. It makes me very happy which is good in these weird times!
E&D: A soundtrack for these times really!
Shane: Yeah, I was procrastinating forever for when to put this out, I was a little bit nervous for what people would say, even though shouldn’t really think about that. I’m quite restless so for me, to put things out on digital platforms works. I was talking to friends around the world. I talked to Kevin Sharp the other day, he’s frustrated and I said, Let me just do some 40 minutes insane noise, you get into your basement, grab a microphone and scream your head off, and just put it out next week, and he’s like, yeah! If you make a bit of pocket money, that’s cool, but it’s not about that it’s about just putting it out. With Napalm Death, it’s amazing, but there’s a ritual and routine to putting those records out because you’re with a record label and that’s cool. I like that but I loved that bands like Coil or Throbbing Gristle or Current 93 would do these limited runs of recordings. They had their own vision, like I’m doing this. I like to think that Napalm is very similar in vision but it has a mechanism it has to go through, at the moment.
E&D: With platforms like Bandcamp, you can put it straight out.
Shane: Yeah, and this has been something that’s been ticking in my brain for a while and I like the idea of having to go at different times, you know, I can call Duncan from Fukpig and we can just go and record something and I can put it out the next day. People can like it or they don’t! That’s appealing to me because it’s instant. Danny always says to me, when we’re sitting around talking about something and something will come up, and I’ll say that’s an excellent name for a band! Some people will say, why do you really need to do that but it’s something that I need to do continuously.
E&D: With all the bands on the go, how do you spread your time evenly? Obviously, Napalm would be your number one concern. Is it just when you’ve got the time to fit it in?
Shane: With this stuff, what’s really great for me, is that Napalm tour an awful lot so there’s a lot of downtime on tour. The recent tour we did, there’s several hours in the day where there’s nothing going on so I put my headphones in and started making loops on my midi keyboard. That’s what I did with some of theses songs, they started life on the road. Sometimes we‘ll do a weekend trip to France in the van, you’re looking at eight hours a day driving sometimes and that helps pass the time for me. It helps me deal with it. With travelling, it’s got a bit harder as I’ve got older, we do over 120 shows a year. This gives you the outlet. We’ve been doing this for a while in some ways, recording stuff and having ideas on tour, but with the Dark Sky Burial stuff, what’s good about it is I can probably make an album on tour and then release it the next day. I’ve been really pleased with people’s response to it. I’ve got a lot of followers who I interact with and that’s where I asked about the vinyl boxset and they said yeah. It’s nice to be able to talk to people who like your music, I like that interaction and it’s more important to me that way. The whole recording process is fun for me on tour. I am quite restless and there’s boredom obviously. It’s cool to come down here too (to the studio) and hang out, my little ones can play the keyboards when there’s no school, my little lad seems quite interested in that at the moment so as they might be enthusiastic about that in the future. It helps me, it’s quite inspirational, he’ll just randomly whack the keyboard and it’s like, ‘wow, I’ll have to record that!’ I’ve got a home studio too, but when you’ve got time on tour, it does, for me, help create other things.
E&D: With Dark Sky Burial, and obviously everything’s on hold at the moment, but when live music starts again, would you look to taking this project on the road?
Shane: Not right now but knowing how I am and how I think and how the bands have evolved over the years. In the early 90s in Birmingham, I would see bands like Meat Beat Manifesto or Consolidated or Front Line Assembly and even N.W.A. back in the day. Some of that stuff crosses over well in a live setting and some of it doesn’t. Young Gods are one of all time faves. They were great because there was the singer and the drummer and the keyboard sampler dude. I’d like to build Dark Sky Burial and hopefully if people are interested and it gets to a point where I can say, I have x amount of records of various sonics and I can do it as a three piece because I’d like it to be visual. I don’t want to be a guy who just plugs his laptop in. It’s cool and I respect that but it’s not enough for me live. I’d like something more visual, a couple of people flipping out or whatever! At the moment, it’s quite laid back stuff but some of the tracks I haven’t released yet, it’s a bit more dark and twisted, that’s the nature of the tune itself, a bit uptempo, a bit more pumping, not that I’m a techno guru or anything! There’s lots of variances, every day is what comes to mind I suppose, but I would like to do it live at some point, yeah.
E&D: Is there still going to be a new Napalm Death album later this year?
Shane: Fingers crossed. I mean, it’s all good to go. We’ve had it recorded, mixed and mastered and good to go since September last year, but through many reasons, it’s just taken a long time to put together. I believe September this year is the month I’ve been told, but I don’t know what’s going to happen now, you can do digital, but I don’t know what the situation is with pressing plants is. It’s an odd state of affairs we’re all in aren’t we?
E&D: I didn’t even think of that, with the pressing plants.
Shane: Yeah, that’s the thing. At first, I thought we can do it digitally, but from a record label’s point of view they’d want a physical product. It’s nice when people say, when the physical release because they’re still interested in that, but the cost of doing that, that’s the thing. If I knew that four hundred people were chuffed with Dark Sky Burial then I’d get, say, two hundred if the vinyl pressed and if they sold, I’d be chuffed. What I’ve tended to do in the past, me and Mick from Nathrakh had our own label and we’d get distribution and we had a band record an album then the band would split up and we’d be left with five hundred CDs! It’s different with your own thing I suppose. I like that, I mean the old bands would do like two hundred 7”s for people who were really into your band. Hopefully the new Napalm album will be out this year. That’s a strange one because we’ve been around for a while and everyones going to have their opinion on that. I’ve already stated writing stuff for the next album already. Now we’ve got this place where, me and Danny can jam to our hearts content which is good, the neighbours are really cool.
E&D: your own label, is that still a growing concern for you?
Shane: Not as such, the digital thing is for me and associated things really and it sounds horrible to say I’m not into other bands, it’s not that, it’s just that when me and Mick did the FETO thing, we went into it with such a big heart, business wise and it does become business, I just found things that I didn’t like. The distribution was great but they would always say, oh yeah sales are going great, let’s press another x amount and you’d go ok, but you’d look at the statement and think, well, we haven’t sold the other ones yet and from that, the bands going to say, can you pay us anything because you’ve got to take your cut and it can be disappointing from the band’s point of view. Things like that and it’s not for me, I don’t think I’ve got the means for that. If I come across something I really, really loved, maybe. Me and Mick dove head first into it and it did get intense with some bands. If I heard something I really loved, I’d say cool, I’ll put it out and I’d tell them, I’ll control it more. I’d hate to let anyone down. I know what band/record label relationships can be like! I see it from both sides as well. It’s difficult, there’s been a couple of times when I’ve been really into a band and we’ve looked at it and pressed it, I’m being very honest with you here, and the band, like I said, have split up and you get a bit disillusioned. Napalm through the decades, there have been many times when things have been tough for us in late 90s/early 2000s, but we just stuck together, because it’s Napalm Death, maybe it’s a different thing. I’d probably encourage that band themselves though to day you know what, you can do this yourselves too, and be happier for it because that’s what I’m finding as I get older, I enjoy the control and being able the things that you want really as opposed to the whole strategy that record labels have sometimes.
E&D: When you first started playing in bands, did you ever think that you’d have a thirty plus year career as a a musician?
Shane: No, I mean I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching recently and I’ve always wanted to play music, always wanted to be in a band since I was bashing on my nan’s buckets when I was five years old and I found Napalm, and Napalm found me. You’ve got to have a little luck in the world I think and it was the best thing I ever did, joining Napalm. When I told my Dad I was quitting my job, it was like reckless abandon and you follow your heart. It’s easy to say to someone, follow your heart, but if that persons acted of how to do that, so a bit of luck, Peel and everything else but after a while meeting people I admire in the music scene, I decided I’m going to buckle down and follow what I love. I could get a job now, but what the hell would I do and I have a family so yes, I have to make money, but my passion is still music. It has to be good, you can’t just out any crap out just for the sake of it and if you make a bit of money out of it, that’s lovely. I did not expect to be still here doing it really. This is an interesting situation we’re in because I think a lot of bands are freaking out about what they’re going to do with the live work. Things will change, and things will probably open up a bit more but the worlds going to be different, we know that.
E&D: Yeah, it’s unprecedented.
Shane: It’s a strange time, but my friend Russ Russell said to me the other day, I wish we were cavemen, we could go out and hunt for food and think this is great but these things we’re hunting can eat and kill us. There’s progress in the world but there’s also danger and differences I suppose, I’d what he meant, that put me at ease for about five minutes! The world moves forward you know. I’m still here I suppose so that’s good, if I stop eating chocolate, I’ll be here for longer!
E&D: What have been some of the proudest moments in your career so far?
Shane: Joining Napalm Death for sure. The first Peel session before I ever played a show and then listening back and realising that a nineteen year old kid from a village was being played on radio one and all that came with it. He gave us an award at the Kerrang! Awards. Peel was a guru to us, I guess and that was a great moment meeting him and then finally, a few years ago, going to his house and meeting his lovely wife and going through his record collection, all that stuff was proud moments. Meeting Ronnie James Dio was mind blowing for me and him telling me that he loved Napalm Death. He put his hand on my shoulder and we were talking about curry houses in Sparkhill in Birmingham! He was saying about when they were doing the Heaven And Hell rehearsals they would get curry from Sparkhill, that blew me away! When he told me he loved Napalm, my wife was laughing at me because I had a tear come down my eye! That’s god to me, Dio, in my early metal days! On a non musical thing, my children of course, I never envisioned having them. For music, those are the two that stick out for me, I’m very proud of the Tronos album, we finished that and it took a long time to do. There’s probably millions more too!
E&D: Where is the best curry house in Birmingham that you could recommend in your opinion?
Shane: That’s a good question! There’s a couple of good ones that have closed down. There’s a good one down here, very traditional. They do a vegetable curry and two naans for five quid, that’s really authentic. The most awesome one closed down, but there’s Shababs in Sparkbrook on Ladypool Road, that’s a good one. That’s a special one for me. It’s an acquired taste but I noticed when I moved away that they kind of Westernise it a little bit. There used to be one called Desi Khana. Danny is the guy with curry, he needs to take balti to Las Vegas! He loves curry and cooks them himself and they embraced him and showed him the recipes. Desi Khana was round the corner from us, that was mind blowing! The stewed chicken balti was amazing, very basic but so good.
E&D: When you played on the ‘Mind Of A Razor’ remix for Gunshot, is it true they paid you with credit to a curry house?
Shane: That’s true! I did that and they called and one of the Napalm guys, it might have been Mitch back in the day, and they said we want to pay Shane something and he said to pay in credit to a place called Shere Khan. Now Shere Khan is literally a sixty second walk from The Mermaid. The buildings still there and it’s been bought by someone, I always said I wanted to open it again as a venue. Shere Khan was an awesome one as well, I think I still had £10 credit there as well which is a bit of a bummer! You’ll find that in the Napalm camp, curry is a massive conversation point. Danny would probably talk to you more about curries!
E&D: On a final note and keeping with that theme what is your go to curry?
Shane: My go to curry? Chicken and mushroom Rogan Josh for me and probably a couple naans!