Thursday 17 November 2016

Munkeying Around - Interview with Chris Hardwick from SPAZTIK MUNKEY

Doom/Sludge Metal band – Spaztik Munkey – have released two excellent EP's so far. Their debut EP – Mucktub and their latest EP - Amphetamine Blues. The band are very hard to categorize. Sure they play Doom and Sludge Metal but it's still a fucked up kind of sound.

Spaztik Munkey play by their own rules but they do release damn good music. They supported Canadian Heavyweights – Dopethrone – earlier this year in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK and they went down a storm with the Geordie Faithful in attendance.

I wanted to interview Chris Hardwick (Vocals/Guitar) from the band for quite a while now. I'm pleased to say he's kindly agreed to do this interview. I want to thank Chris for his brutally honest answers to my questions. It may make uncomfortable reading but Chris is one of the nicest guys I've dealt with recently from the UK Doom/Sludge Metal scene

Anyway. Time to get the interview started.

Hi, Chris. Thanks for doing this interview. How are things with you today?

Chris Hardwick: In the blue.

Before we get to discussing your new album. Can you give a brief history of how the band came together and where it is today?

CH: Bourbon. Blues. Amphetamine. Vodka. Broken Arms. Old friends. Life. Goat Leaf. It’s a long story... Some other time perhaps?

Why did you call the band Spaztik Munkey. Any particular reasons why.

CH: What do people expect me to say? That we’re a bunch of cunts, and hate disabled people?; Sorry to disappoint ya’ll. There are lots of reasons. Here’s some…

I had an estranged brother through adoption, who suffered from Spastic Cerebral Palsy. When he died, I attended his funeral and ended up looking into the condition more. I wanted to do something to allow me to candidly speak about the condition, and bring some awareness of the suffering people who have spasticity are experiencing.

We’re not fans of political correctness and subversive euphemisms in language - it’s simply fascist, amounting to censorship, and quieting conversations. We’re opposed to anything that attempts to shackle an individual's mind through silencing them.

The American colloquial interpretation meaning; an idiot. Think of it as “Idiot Human”. Spasticity doesn’t affect mental ability, it’s a physical condition - language is funny like that.

Were you mindful that some people may find the name offensive? How do you respond to comments to people who take offence to your name?

CH: If they’re offended that’s their choice. The idea that being offended provides some sort of entitlement to not be? Or moral superiority due to correctness? That’s a pretty fascist attitude, be offended - suck it up and stop thinking you’re a special snowflake that has a right to go through life without ever seeing or hearing something you dislike. Needless to say - we’re all particularly hostile towards such people. Everyone has the right to express an opinion, no matter how nasty or threatening it is - silencing people is not a legitimate argument. It’s tantamount to ignorance and part of the reason the world looks the way it does now.

The amount of people who’ve said “You can’t call yourselves that!”, we can and we have! Freedom is everything! Most, if not all of these people don’t care about spasticity! They just want to be “correct” and the moral vindication is empowering to weak people - you see it all the time on social media. So here’s our collective middle finger. You’re the butt of the joke.

There is a legitimate complaint where people suffering from or who have family members who are suffering from spastic conditions. I can see why they could misunderstand what we’re about and be offended. We’re most definitely not laughing at these people! - unless you’re Jesper Odelberg (Boys on Wheels is awesome).

Congratulations on the new EP. Amphetamine Blues. Great to see it carries on the pissed off frantic tone from Mucktub. What can people expect from the EP?

CH: Thanks, Steve, it’s kind of you to say. It’s a unique package - you get the CD, a T-Shirt, A3 poster, a cloth patch, and a hand numbered authentication slip with something scrawled on it. We aren’t going to reissue this on CD when these are gone they’re gone. As a record, it’s a much wider spread in terms of musical style than Mucktub.

We’re trying to show another side - spread out the wings, and challenge a few preconceptions. There’s less humour on this record that’s for sure, and we’ve taken a step outside of our comfort zone. It’s healthy to experiment, and we’re keen to experiment further on future recordings and to continue to evolve. Amphetamine Blues isn’t a sign of anything to come but more a snapshot of that period in time.

Was it an easier or harder record to write and record for compared to your debut EP.

CH: Much harder to write, Cluster B took months to perfect it’s feel - and was revised several times. Although Amphetamine Blues was pretty quick to record, 18 hours opposed to 24 hours for Mucktub. Most of the reason we recorded Amphetamine Blues was because Daniel had to have an operation on his arm. He went to the hospital for that the day after we recorded it and we knew it was going put us out of action for some time, potentially permanently - so there was a little pressure to get this done. After EyeHateGod cancelled their European tour we decided to do more of a collector's package, it was just going to be a CD originally.

This release has a more a doomier outlook compared to Mucktub. Perhaps even sinister as well. Was that your intention to release something different to Mucktub.

CH: Both records reflect an emotional state at the time. Each song is either a personal or observational story and the subject matter on Mucktub was less inclusive of that personal space. It was a very conscious decision to do something different, Mucktub was a safer record. Amphetamine Blues is a seesaw of a record, more about balancing the extremes.

Did you do anything different when recording Amphetamine Blues compared to Mucktub?

CH: Yes. Some of which I can’t talk about. Mark Chantler - the recording engineer from the Noiseworks in Rotherham where we recorded both records used a completely different mic technique, and we did some things with the vocals - I don’t consider himself much of a vocalist, but layering harsh and soft with saturation of reverb seemed to work. Guitar wise, a Mustang as the second guitar, alongside a Stratocaster, I changed the brand of strings, used some different fuzz pedals. David kept the bass guitar is identical to Mucktub - even the strings are the same! Daniel used a jungle snare to get a tighter snare sound alongside his main snare drum.

Are you curious what fans may think of your new sound on the new EP?

CH: Sure. I’ve all the time in the world to listen to people's thoughts, good and bad. It’s interesting to see how people think it sounds, the band's people think influenced us. It was certainly the case with Mucktub; I have never listened to a single church of misery record by the way. Amphetamine Blues is different to Mucktub, so we’re expecting it’ll appeal to different people. It has a more experimental sound for us and sits outside of our own comfort zone. It won’t be for everyone, it’s not a sign of some radical shift within the band towards a new sound - it exists as is.

The overall content of the album is very bleak especially the lyrics and riffs. What inspires you and influences you when writing music and lyrics.

CH: Have you ever visited Rotherham? I’m going to assume not. It’s a place where hope goes to die, it may as well just be a mental asylum. It’s a combination of location and absurd personal experiences.

Lyrically I make use of extreme contradictory terms, “Eat, shit, and die” or “Eat shit and die” - one is an insult, one relates to actions we all share. The environment and isolated nature play a huge part of it, and then naturally - bands and artists we like, Son House, Tom Waits, Tad, Melvins, Charles Bukowski, Iron Monkey etc… The whole Jimmy Savile is a wizard thing is based off of a youtube documentary.

What is the song-writing dynamic in the band? Is it a group collective or down to one individual.

CH: I write all the riffs and lyrics. The band operates in a creatively open environment, based on honesty, respect and trust - which basically amounts to me shutting up and listening to what abuse David and Daniel have to hurl my way. I listen, mostly. Daniel brings some seriously deep understanding of arrangement, as does David. I trust them 100% when it comes to their instrumental contributions, and assessment of the quality of a song. Nothing is performed or recorded until we’re ready and satisfied it's complete.

You're from Rotherham. What's the local scene like in Rotherham? Do you get the chance to play gigs on a regular basis? Or do you have to travel further afield?

CH: I wouldn’t say there is a local Rotherham scene. A community of musicians that have lived here for years and all know each other is perhaps as close as it gets. There are places to play here, and we’re starting to see underground bands come through the town which is great. As for playing shows - we play where we can when we can. We’ve turned down more shows than we’ve played and we prefer to play further afield when we do.

You recently supported Dopethrone on their recent UK Tour. How did the guys treat you and what was the audience reaction to your music.

CH: Dopethrone seemed a nice bunch, they introduced themselves, and watched some of our set. The north-east folks were some of the friendliest we’ve met; I got bought a nice bourbon afterwards, that was nice. It was a pleasure to play the bill. The reaction was far in excess of anything we expected, and there seemed to be a definite curiosity about who the hell we were, what the hell we were doing. I hope people enjoyed the set, it was certainly the best experience we’ve had all year. We all want to come back to Newcastle in the future and play again. Sadly it was an opportunity that came at the expense of Iced Out breaking up, and Jonas from Inverted Mill Recordings gave us a shot.

Will you be performing more dates in the UK anytime soon?

CH: We’ve got a couple of shows in December - in Rotherham. Props Skateshop on the 10th December & The Bridge Inn on the 17th. After which we’re not likely to play for some time - we’re eager to write new stuff - work and family life make it impossible for us to write and play shows effectively. If the right show and line-up occur, then sure we’ll jump at it, but for me, it’s about making music, and if other people are around and digging it great - we appreciate the support - but it's a cathartic experience even if we’re just three guys in a room. There is no desire for validation; I’m simply trying to keep myself sane.

What's your current verdict on the UK Doom/Sludge/Stoner Metal scene? Do you think it's reached its creative peak? Or can it still vastly improve.

CH: We’re not part of the scene. If we are a part of it - it’s news to me. We’ve no real connection to it either, as far as I can tell it mostly seems to be the same old bands giving each other Dutch rudders at some promoters circle jerk. It’s a clique, a clique that very likely takes one look at the name of our band and says nope. I find it all a bit incestuous, and that’s sure to stifle creativity.

Perhaps it’s got more to do with it being some folks meal ticket to the rock and roll dream? So to answer your point - yeah it can vastly improve! Since when did rock and roll become so safe? When did people start wearing earplugs to shows? When did being loud equate to heavy? When did it all become so nice and respectable? When did labelling yourself as something become more important that the music?

Do you have an advanced setup or basic setup when performing live and recording?

CH: Our live shows use the same musical equipment as when we record. Live I use different guitars based on my mood. I’m an ex-lampy, so I’ve been building up a lighting rig to enhance the live shows at venues where one isn’t available, or when it’s not a traditional venue (something we’re keen on, hence the Skateshop show on the Dec 10th).

The artwork for Amphetamine Blues is fantastic. Who designed that cover and how much input did you have into the overall design of the EP.

CH: Daniel Lee Tunstill (Danny T), a long time friend. He’s the sonic genius behind the psychedelic alt. rock band 6Needles - who I implore people to check out. The only real input I believe we had or wanted to have is our recording - he listened to it, and the art was the result of his interpretation of the record. I think the Iron Monkey “Our Problem” LP cover may have been an influence.

What are your plans for 2017? Full-length album. More tours. Anything you like to share with us.

CH: Our main priority at the moment is a full-length record. We *may* do a tour in the later half of next year - depends if we can make it work. If you’re a promoter - feel free to get in touch with us. We’ll also be considering releasing a video of a live show, and I’m pretty sure we’ve some plans to do a video to support Amphetamine Blues. Then there’s also Montage of Shit, Volume Two - a collection of live recordings set to video stuff that we’ll make before hitting the studio. It’s our equivalent to a teaser volume one is out there, by all means, check it out.

Well, Chris thanks for doing this interview. All the best with the EP release. It's a great EP.

CH: Cheers. Thanks for the support.

Words by Steve Howe and Chris Hardwick