DATE OF INTERVIEW:
CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX
3rd May 2012
JUSTIN GREAVES; KARL DEMATA
Time Out recently summarised Crippled Black Phoenix as: "Unconventional post-rock American duo CBP favour doom-rock and 15-minute edits, balanced with spoken-word overdubs." "Unconventional" is the only accurate word within that sentence in what's an inexplicably erroneous description of the band from a supposedly respected publication. However, such ill-researched, misinformed and fallacious accounts seem to have plagued CBP throughout their career, so much so that they've bothered to list the most common misconceptions on their Facebook page (which would surely provide an easily accessible primary source of information for journos). "Supergroup" they are not. Nor "collective". And the perennial insistence of lazy scribes who place them under the equivocal "post-rock" umbrella term is surely appropriated by those who've never bothered to listen to the actual music. "Vigilante" is CBP's descriptive label of choice which is apposite on so many levels from their genre-defying, innovative compositions and songs' conceptual themes to the band's general attitude. Fresh off a lengthy tour around mainland Europe, Metal Discovery met up with guitarists Justin Greaves and Karl Demata at the beginning of May a short while before CBP were due to hit the stage at The Garage in London for a one-off UK gig...
METAL DISCOVERY: It was quite a lengthy European tour in March/April but this is your only UK headline show. Is that because the bandís more popular on mainland Europe would you say?
JUSTIN: Probably more to the point, weíre less bothered about England! [laughs]
(Justin Greaves on how vocals fit into CBP's overall aesthetic)
"Öthis band has never been about the vocals. The vocals are another instrument. Itís very difficult because we donít want to force people to understand it but you want people to understand it."
Karl and Justin in The Garage bar, London, UK, 3rd May 2012
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
KARL: It just seems to get around mainland Europe much better. We play long sets but I think here in England, theyíre not used to that. Theyíre after a quick fix of gratification.
MD: You hit number 43 in the charts in Germany for the new album so obviously you have a bigger fanbase out that way?
JUSTIN: I suppose it looks like itís getting that way. Like Karl says, I think just about every other country apart from America is geared up more towards the band who do things like we do. We donít really fit into the English way although we come from here, or based here.
MD: And a lot of your influences are maybe from England originally.
JUSTIN: Well, all over the place really but I think we have, essentially, an English sound.
MD: So thatís an irony in one sense.
KARL: The English sound is more popular in Europe than in England I think! [laughs]
MD: Countries other than the UK seem to be a lot more open-minded to genuinely progressive music Ė has that been the case in your experience?
JUSTIN: Yeah, definitely. You see a difference in the demographic of the audience as well. Germany, predominantly, is more classic prog-rock guys and slightly older, and then we go to Poland and Eastern Europe and itís like teenagers and stuff. Itís completely different. And then some places we get a complete mix. But I think everybody, no matter who they are or what theyíre into or what they like about the band, they seem to be open-minded about all the other aspects.
So the classic rock guys, they like the rock stuff but they kind of like the noisy stuff or the ambient stuff. And the indie kids, theyíre open-minded to the guitar stuff for instance. It doesnít work quite like that in the UK. I think in the UK, the classic rock guys seem to be more open-minded than anybody. I was quite surprised, at first, how they welcomed us with open arms in that world because Iíve never regarded ourselves as a classic rock band. But I think they tend to be a little more open-minded and have a bit more spirit of progressive musicÖnot as in tagged Ďprogressiveí musicÖbut the spirit of prog.
MD: Yeah, not the genre of prog but music thatís actually progressing something. Youíre a multi-faceted band with your styles so your appeal seems to stretch to lots of different scenes. And you canít categorise Crippled Black Phoenix at all.
JUSTIN: No, but thatís what Iím saying about Europe; people seem to come together for something like that whereas in England itís more divided.
MD: Yeah, itís more scene oriented in this country. People who are into prog generally just get into generically categorised prog bandsÖ
JUSTIN: But they wouldnít go and see an indie band or some other kind of band that has progressive tendencies. Itís the other way around. In fact, itís worse than the other way around. I think that the indie crowd in this country just wouldnít go to a prog rock gig. They seem much more divided.
MD: So you have a guy called Matt Simpkin whoís been standing in as vocalist on the tour youíve just done and the show tonight Ė is he going to become a permanent member of the band or canít you say yet?
JUSTIN: We canít really comment on that at this point.
KARL: Itís still a kind of grey area right now but, in any case, heís done a great job. He just jumped on and learned everything and heís a great guy as well.
MD: Have you had good feedback from your fans about Matt?
JUSTIN: For the most part, yeah. I mean, thereís always gonna be dissenters but it doesnít matter if it was Matt or anybody, people sometimes donít like change. The thing is, with bands, itís tricky because if you change a bass player or drummer or something, theyíre just as valid as the singer. The way we do it, everythingís equal but the way the fans perceive it, you could change a bass player or a drummer and they wouldnít have much to say but change a singer and it doesnít matter who you get, they just donít like the change. Itís because they get used to a certain voice.
But thatís the dichotomy that this band has because this band has never been about the vocals. The vocals are another instrument. Itís very difficult because we donít want to force people to understand it but you want people to understand it. So youíve got to try and do your thing and just hope people actually understand whatís going on. But yeah, thereís not much we can do about peopleís opinions.
MD: Ď(Mankind) The Crafty Apeí is an amazing new albumÖ
JUSTIN: Thank you very much.
MD: Was it always intended to be a double CD?
JUSTIN: No, we put together an album that makes sense dynamically and everything else, and the songs that need to be on there and the bits of music that need to be on there and let that dictate the release. So when we got 86 minutes of music, or whatever it was, we just had to basically go up to the label and say: ďWeíve got 86 minutes of music, thatís what youíre gonna get, weíre not taking anything out because thatís what makes sense.Ē And they were totally cool and, straight away, they said, ďno worries, weíll do a double CD.Ē
MD: Youíve been quoted as saying that the songs are linked through themes involving ďthe corruption of mankind and injustice, but also ultimately in the hope that all is not lostĒ. For me, the music itself actually reflects that pessimistic/optimistic paradox so were you very conscious when composing songs that concept and music were at one?
JUSTIN: The way it works is that Iíll start with a bunch of music and then have a bunch of ideas aboutÖitís all to do with whatever mood I might be in. I tend to write a lot of ideas down and ideas for song titles so itís almost like the song titles come first. But when you get closer to making the album, you start thinking about the songs to go on the album and, sometimes, itís more about luck really because the songs find their titles and their themes. With the title comes the theme, you know, and the concept of that song. And hopefully, fingers-crossed, if it turns out right, like I say, thereís an element of luck, the music finds the titles and the titles find the music and it all starts to make sense.
If you have a song like ĎFaced with Complete Failureí, the big long song at the end, that is a pure dichotomy; both sides of the coin in one song. And to have a song title like that which is quite gloomy sounding, but itís full of hope, and then you think, okay, itís a perfect match. And thatís how it works. I donít think anythingís ever forced because I donít think we could do it that way! [laughs]
MD: Thereís a very natural feel to the songs where all the instruments, and vocals, play off each other in a very intrinsic kind of way. How much were the songs rehearsed as a full band before hitting the studio and did they continue to develop through rehearsals from when they were originally written?
JUSTIN: Theyíre written, demos are recorded and, sometimes, theyíre not even demoed either.
KARL: But you can tell. You can tell there are a few that are structured and those are the ones that were demoed and pretty much the same. And some were a little bit more like good ideas and then we did more in the studio. But none of them changed radically and there was never a point where it was like, ďoh, we have to add another chorus because it doesnít workĒ or something like that. The songs were there.
JUSTIN: Things can develop in the studio but the development actually also includes the fact that we take things out as well. So when you say things play off each other, most of the lyrics were reworked as they kind of felt like they were competing with thing, like ďweíll take that out and that outĒÖthatís development right there. When you think of development, you think of youíre adding stuff the whole time but thatís not how it works.
MD: Do you add stuff in the studio in terms ofÖbecause the instrumentations are nicely layered with lots of different stuff, if one of the musicians says, ďthis might sound good if I add this bit on top of thisĒ, do songs develop in that way?
JUSTIN: No. Nobodyís got that much control!
JUSTIN: No, I mean, there is a bit of that. Each musician obviously plays the parts their way but, ninety per cent of the time, the parts are already written. Itís just down to how they play it and thatís where you kind of bounce off each other. But youíve got to understand the song so itís not come along and play what you want. The basis of the songs, the songs are pretty much complete; itís how you work with the sound when you record it. In the past, Iíve had demos where I actually prefer the demo versions to how itís actually turned out on the album. Theyíre two different things so itís a judgement call. When youíre in the studio, itís very much a judgement call and you kind of use your instincts a lot as well.
MD: The album was recorded in Chapel Studios which is a residential studio of course, so did you stay there for the whole of the recording process?
MD: Was the local pub open?
JUSTIN: No, it was shut!
MD: I interviewed Paradise Lost last week who recorded their new album there and they said part of what attracted them back to Chapel was the pub but it was being refurbished! Mustíve been a similar time.
KARL: We didnít mind because we were working 24/7 kind of thing. We were eating and drinking the songs, you know!
MD: How many hours were you working per day then?
JUSTIN: As many as we possibly could. Ewan, the engineer there, heís a great guy. Iíve actually known him for a long, long time. That was really why we ended up in Chapel in the first place because I know the guys from a long, long time ago. And I always thought that Chapel would be the perfect studio for this band so the first chance we get, you know, with the new label saying we could pick the studio, and we go there. The whole relationship between everybody was really cool. All the other guys came to play their parts and went home but me and Karl were there all the time. We didnít really communicate with the outside world, to be honest.
MD: Thereís a very organic sound to the production so is that why you chose Chapel as well because of all the vintage gear they have there?
JUSTIN: Yeah, theyíve got good equipment and outboard stuff but, more than that, it was the fact thereís the live room there that lets the instruments sound like instruments. So there was actually very little production involved. We spent more time in setting up and making the sounds before it goes into the desk. It was more of a case of mixing, really, than producing.
MD: As I think I wrote in my review, it sounds like actual people playing instruments rather than the whole thing being overproduced and massacred by Pro Tools.
JUSTIN: We were concerned not to polish it up too much, Iíll say that. A place like that, you could go so technically correct, youíd lose all the song. Sometimes, some of the little nuances of weird stuff coming upÖ
KARL: Yeah, sometimes you can hear the pedal kicking in for the guitar and itís like, yeah, we didnít want to take it off.