-photos and words by Elmore
Describing the live shows of HECK- previously known as Baby Godzilla- is tough simply because the English language falls short. Incendiary. Vital. Fucksplosion. None of these quite reach the descriptive needed. I sat down with Matt Reynolds, frontman A, and prayed he knew some adjectives that I didn't.
Where are you guys at the moment? Is the album cycle done?
We’re just rounding off the cycle now. We’re putting out a final music video, the last part of the Instructions puzzle and then we’re looking to move straight towards Album Number two. The way we write is that me and Tom (Marsh, drums) go in and hash out idea after idea after idea and some of them work together while some of them don’t. Recorded with phones under jumpers or now we have a zoom recorder with actual microphones. I’ve spent too much time with a phone pressed up to my ear trying to work out what the notes actually are.
Your band uses notes?!
Hah. Yeah. I’m not very methodical. We were recording the album and then every now and then and I’d find the original recording of what became a particular song and I’d be like “Guys stop - it used to have this bit in it! We have to put the notes back in”
Well your stuff’s deceptively complex.
There are a lot of bits. It’s bitty. We don’t like to stay on one thing and if we return to a part it’s a rarity. Choruses are few and far between but when there is one it’s a release.
So you’ve had this album for a while and you’ve had what- a year and a half of being a ‘proper’ band? What’s it taught you?
It’s taught me that it’s very strenuous doing it all on your own. Between us and Martin our ever-suffering manager we’ve done absolutely everything ourselves from booking and promotion to album artwork, production, finding deals for flights to countries which we should have no right to play in. But at the same time it’s worth it - no-one’s said we should or we can’t do this or that which is why things happen like the last track on Instructions being seventeen minutes long. I imagine a label would have had something to say about that! Nine tracks of one minute screamers and then an epic - it makes no sense.
You told me about that a bunch of times, maybe for six months leading up to recording but it was still kind of a revelation when I looked at the track listing and it was actually there.
It was something I wanted to do for a long time, we never really had space for it on EPs. An album is the chance to pitch ahead and do whatever you see your band doing. Are you going to do what’s expected of a band or are you going to force the unexpected?
And you guys are already quite obnoxious.
Yeah, and if you start off as that then suddenly compromising with your proper record seems off.
Exactly. A cop out. As soon as you do something that’s not 100% your way I think people can see that.
In one sentence you’ve just explained what broke my heart about Biffy Clyro.
Yeah, I empathise with that.
They were so uncompromising and they were selling out 2000 capacity rooms and it was amazing, and then Simon Cowell was like “I can have this too if I want”.
The thing is I’ve made my peace with that now. They did the 2000 cap rooms thing for a long time, writing incredible music, stuff we all still listen to and take influence from but I suppose… how long are you going to keep putting that out? If you think about it like a career- which is definitely is for them- eventually you’re going to wonder when you’ll take the next step. And obviously the Simon Cowell thing rings alarm bells in your head and in mine but if you look at it on paper they’ve taken what they do with time signatures, whatever and somehow made it mainstream and it so much better than what it’s played next to on the radio. And that’s an achievement.
I wish I could be as accepting as you!
I’ve had to be! I lost one of my favourite bands for a while so I had to make it ok in my own head. But no, I do stick by it. If you deconstruct their bubblegum pop music it’s still very clever.
So if Cowell came to you with his smug face and said he’d like to have your song… but the bastard word in the title had to go and the one chorus at the start needed to happen five times… but it’d be royalties a go-go… what do you say?
Three years ago I’d have said no, but now, at age 27 I’ll take the money in a shot. It comes back to the first question, what have you learned, and it’s very difficult doing things we want to do with our own budget. Which is no budget. If someone came along with a wodge of cash we’d think “excellent, we can do this for another year now”. Not that you’d send integrity out of the window, but the support of other people has taken on a different role in my mind now. Before I saw it as a very dirty thing with grassroots being great but I think there’s a way of taking other people’s support and making it work.
How much did it suck to have to change your band name?
Ohhhh yeah. That did suck. We were driving down this fast road and suddenly: brick wall. In hindsight though to have our wheels taken off us was probably quite a useful thing. We were just riding on hype- we did a tour with Limp Bizkit which made no sense. We were playing to 6000-8000 people each night and the music didn’t scale up but it all kept steam-rolling. Then the name change came and we had to take a step back. It made us refine things a bit more, made us work. We could have very easily put our record out and vanished but now we’ve had to put double the work in, go to all the venues twice, go to Europe more and build fans again so we had a tactile, solid base of face to face relationships.
You’ve not been lazy.
No. Unfortunately not, no. If you go to people you get a much stronger bond because they can feel connected to you, the human beings. They can feel a part of the music you make instead of something that’s just piped through a radio to enjoy and then done, done, on to the next one. We’re under no illusion that we’ll gain success buy selling records- it’s a very esoteric thing that we do. The people that like us love it and in the tens to hundreds they will buy our records!
Uh, so are Hofner bored of you destroying all the guitars they send you yet?
They get angry with us quite a lot! We went to Germany earlier this year and thought “Where are they based? We need to go and say sorry”. We met the people we’ve been talking to for a while first-hand and apologised to them all and they were just the loveliest human beings, so happy to to have something that could help us carry on doing the thing we do.
I love seeing the photos of their stalls at conventions and the like, lots of old man basses etc and then big pictures of you with a battered Club just screaming.
It’s great, yeah! Their normal users are Beatles fanatics, often middle aged players with archtops and then we came along and suddenly they can market to younger and heavier bands.
You’ve managed to do some great things. What’s your favourite video that you’ve made?
For fun? Probably for The Great Hardcore Swindle. For the video we just did scrapheap challenge- we each had £25, built suits of armour, went into a field and fought eachother for a whole day.
What’s your favourite festival to play? You’ve done quite a few at this point.
Earlier this year we did my favourite festival show ever, Download. For the second time, unbelievably.
Did I see a Tweet or something where you were saying “They’ve asked us back, they must not know who we are”?
That was a good thing about the name change - every festival that had banned us books us again and you turn up to see the stage manager thinking “Oh no it’s you”. Yeah. It’s us. We got another year of English festivals out of changing our name. But Download this year, it was bigger than we could have imagined. A full tent, people in every direction.
Is that where the picture of you comes from, you’re just a ball in mid air?
Yep, that’s the one. It was insane from start to finish, I felt like I blinked at the start and then afterwards I was like “was that our band?” During that set we got our sound cut three times just because we were being us. At one point I was all the way up the lighting rig, right at the top of the massive tent and they kind of went “NO” and the sound was cut. It was in part of one of the songs where it’s just drums and bass, two Ampeg bass rigs still blaring out. They have a volume limiter on that stage and without the PA on we were still ten decibels over the limiter. “Let’s just keep going” was what we all thought. I got back on the stage just in time for my vocal and that’s when the sound cut back in!
Yeah! How many times have you gotten to the top of something and realised it was a mistake?
A lot. A lot. A Hell of a lot. Download was one. Before that I’d been in the crowd and I’d jumped into this massive pile of mud and I was covered from head to toe. I was climbing this thing and my feet kept slipping. It’s only then that I looked down and thought “That’s death. That’s not a broken leg.”
So lastly, what have you got coming up? There’s South By Southwest, are you making a record?
Yes we are. The demoing process has already begun, we’re looking to record with Machine in the US, a couple of tracks which are earmarked for an album.
Do you have to address him as Machine?
It’s really weird, we met him at Reading after our set. He approached us and said “I love your music, I’d love to record you” and he gave us a card and said “Oh, my name’s Machine”. He’s done some amazing records. Anyway, we’re just going to meet him but we are looking to start the next album, putting feelers out for people to work with. But before then we’ve got to work out how to get to SXSW, we’re doing a European tour and then it’s festivals. We’ve worked hard to be solid with what we have here so we can take some time out to go to France and play to nobody. It’s like spinning plates - our plates in the UK have good movement so we can go off and set some more up. That’s our job, just to keep relevant and keep busy. That’s when the best ideas come. Actually no, scrap that - most of the ideas come in the shower.