An Interview with Dead!
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
Being hailed as one of the bands to watch for 2018 could be a huge pressure for a young band to shoulder- but London-based quartet Dead! have taken that title and embraced it! Their debut album ‘The Golden Age of Not Even Trying’ debuted at number 34 in the UK album charts, and heading out on a mammoth UK headline tour, the band hope to add to their ever growing fanbase and break out to take the alt rock world by storm! We caught up with guitarists Sam and Louis Matlock, squashed into the front seats of their van before their show at Manchester’s Star and Garter to get their take on the record, touring life and their relationship with their dedicated fanbase:
You guys have just released your debut album ‘The Golden Age of Not Even Trying’- how have you found people’s reactions in the few days since its release?
Louis: Absolutely insane!
Sam: Yeah, ridiculous, completely ridiculous! The great thing is people are picking up on the songs that are our favourites as opposed to the singles we chose: there’s some stuff on it that really harks back to T Rex and Bowie and bands like that with the proper British rock sound and people are picking up on it massively, especially with songs like ‘Youth Screams & Fades’. And then you’ve got songs like W9 for example, which is more of a bluesy jam.
Louis: I think you always worry that, especially in this day and age where the singles are everywhere that people are just going to gloss over the album tracks.
Sam: The album tracks are the ones that flesh it out and tell the story and sell the sound of the band whereas the singles are all like adverts for the record- you choose a single because its catchy and it’s going to get more exposure. For our first single we chose ‘Enough Enough Enough’ because it was quite a good summary of the attitude of the album. It also helps that our fans are very switched on compared to the average music fan these days- our fans are really switched on about listening to full albums which is fucking amazing!
You’ve said before that you don’t like to define your music by one single genre- did you find that to be beneficial to the creative process on this record?
Louis: Honestly, it was a worry at some points- making a cohesive album and sounding like one band was difficult. But at the same time if you get rid of that then that’s how you end up with a one-track sounding album with no highs or lows, so it’s a fine line finding those soft moments but having it still sound like a Dead! record.
Sam: Yeah, because bands like AC/DC for example are great at what they do, and I love a bit of AC/DC at a rock bar, but it does all sound the same because they have a very distinct sound- AC/DC sound like AC/DC, Maiden sound like Maiden but we were very far from sounding like Dead! at the beginning of writing this record.
Louis: I think it was during the recording that it all came together- for example when we finished ‘Up for Ran$om’ and there’s that bit of feedback there that flows into the next song which sounds wicked and brings everything together.
Sam: There are certain chords that you can throw in there as well- there’s this one chord that’s a diminished chord that [vocalist] Alex [Mountford] and I have nicknamed ‘the Vampire Chord’ because all the theatrical goth bands use it, so if there’s ever a chorus that sound too poppy we can just put the Vampire Chord in there and throwing just that one note in there changes the whole thing and wraps the album up in a similar kind of vibe.
There are certain songs on the record like ‘W9’ which create a really dark, powerful atmosphere and almost encompass an entire story and character within the lyrics- was that something you were conscious of during the writing of the record?
Sam: We all live together in this one tiny room in Paddington, so the way we wrote was we had a shared computer, and everyone would come home from work and just put a few bits down and then we’d all come in and change some bits around. We’re not lyricists, but I think there were some dark moments living in that flat and growing up that catch up with you. And so if one of us writes a piece of music with a certain emotion in mind, then you give that to a lyricist who can then put their own intent onto the track as well.
Louis: Because we all lived together for three years, we weren’t distanced from each other so it was easier to talk about how we were feeling and then get Alex to put it into words and he always seemed to get it.
Sam: We actually all went to our grandad’s funeral together, which was an odd experience but then we ended up with a song about that. Sadly, it didn’t make the record because it didn’t fit so we ended up giving it to the fans as a demo because we loved it and we wanted people to hear it.
That’s interesting that you mention giving back to the fans: now that the record is out then, do you feel like the record ‘belongs to the fans’ or do you feel like you retain a sense of autonomy over it still?
Sam: I don’t think a record really belongs to anyone- it doesn’t even really belong to us, it belongs to some suits! I don’t think of it like that- if the fans want to feel like they have some ownership over the record because they’ve supported the band then yeah, they deserve to enjoy it however the fuck they want to, whether that be buying the vinyl and treasuring it or ripping it off YouTube! When you make a piece of art you only control the process, but once you put it out into the world it’s not your place to decide how people want to digest it.
The South coast scene has been the breeding ground for some great bands in recent years- Creeper and Miss Vincent to name a couple- do you guys feel an affinity with that scene or has the London scene shaped you more as a band?
Sam: The Southampton scene shaped us more because Southampton is such a breeding ground with so many bands- I don’t know what it’s like these days, I hope the scene is still strong down there! One of the reasons why Dead! became such a DIY band was because we didn’t want to get stuck being just another uni local band: being in that scene is what gave us the urge to get out of it but also remain a part of it, and so by getting out of it we sort of grew within it. I don’t think the London scene has shaped us as much.
Louis: But I think moving there was necessary.
Sam: Very necessary: I don’t think Dead! would be the band that we are if we hadn’t moved there. I think London shaped Dead! as people, I don’t think the London scene has shaped our music that much though.
Small venues are so important in helping bands to get their sound out there and get themselves heard- do you have a favourite small venue that you have ever played?
Sam: We played once at this dive bar in Durham called The Fish Tank, and the gig was alright until the PA sort of blew up! So our mate Graham then ran round the corner and turned up with another PA- he lived in Southampton with us at the time so god knows where he got it! But he said ‘this is bullshit!’, stormed out of the venue and came back about half an hour later with another PA and we all just said ’Why are you carrying a PA?’ and he just went ‘Shut up, we have a gig to do!’ and so we just went ‘Alright mate!’ and we just got on and did it, and then it was gone by the end of the night so fuck knows where he took it! So while that wasn’t the best venue, it was a fun time and a great show! We’re also doing 100 Club on this tour where AC/DC and Metallica played some of their first gigs, I’ve seen Gallows there as well so it’s steeped in history! And it’s all fucking red as well which is awesome!
Louis: Especially for us!
Sam: I like any venue that’s not scared to BE the venue! As much as [Southampton’s] Joiners is great because it’s a dark, grotty venue, which is exactly what it should be, but the 100 Club is nice because you can’t dress it up, it just IS the 100 Club, it’s been the same way since the 60s!
If people are going to come out and see you on this tour, what can we expect in a sentence?
Sam: A proper British rock show from some young lads!
A bold statement- and the show that followed more than lived up to expectations! From riotous opener ‘The Boys The Boys’ through the slow, seductive ‘W9’ all the way to the band’s landmark track ‘You’re So Cheap’, the whole room crackled with a fire and intensity that spread from the stage out through the small but relentless mosh pit and out to the furthest corners of the room, a powerful mission statement for the movement into the ‘damned, restless future’! The new songs blended seamlessly with the old and the pace of the set never slowed for a second, as the temperature in the room climbed to that of a furnace, and a burning ferocity pervaded the room – it was the kind of show that makes you feel well and truly alive! Definitely worth a two year wait, and you can rest assured it won’t be that long before I’ll be raring to get back in the pit at a Dead! show!
Dead!’s new record ‘The Golden Age of Not Even Trying’ is out now on all platforms.
Dead! have several festival appearances lined up for the summer including Y Not Festival, and the remaining dates of this UK tour can be found below:
Fri 09 Nottingham Bodega
Sat 10 Sheffield Record Junkee
Sun 11 Hull Polar Bear
Mon 12 Newcastle Think Tank
Wed 14 Edinburgh Opium
Mon 19 Oxford Cellar
Tue 20 Cardiff Clwb Ifor Bach
Wed 21 Bristol Louisiana
Thu 22 Plymouth Junction
Photos by Charlotte Claber