Interview: Dead Neanderthals

DEAD NEANDERTHALS (PHOTO BY JAMES WELBURN)

I just want to double-check. Was Prime recorded in one take? If so, was it a struggle to sustain that level of intensity for so long? I feel as though I’m hearing you laying waste to your own bodies.

René Aquarius (drums): Prime is definitely recorded in a single take. No overdubs, no second takes… but this didn’t come easy. We rehearsed/trained a few months to nail the performance. I’m so happy I didn’t lose one of my sticks during the last minute of recording… I actually have nightmares about that happening.

Otto Kokke (sax): Mainly it was just getting used to how you play full blast for 40 minutes straight with no pauses. Things like build-up, pacing and knowing when you need a free hand to drain your baritone sax while playing.

Colin Webster (sax): Exactly, not only was it recorded in one take, it was the first and only take. I’m used to playing loud and for a long time, but this was something else. There was definitely a sensation of heading into the unknown with this session. Also, I think by now everyone has heard about the blood dripping down my beard at the end of the recording.

On that note, to what extent is Dead Neanderthals the music of body/flesh/muscle?

R: The physical component is very important, especially for Prime. Playing can get pretty intense up to the point where my drum kit gets covered in blood (that actually happened during a gig in Rennes, France).

O: when playing Prime it’s all muscle.

C: Extremely physical.

Was there a particular concept behind Prime?

O: Not that we decided to do something conceptual but I guess we latched onto the idea of doing something really minimal but very loud and aggressive. We described our idea to Colin as 40 minutes of constant freakout with no rest, stopping or taking it a notch down. He was like: “Yeah, my idea exactly!”

R: Nope, not a real plan or concept. We just woke up one day thinking, “We need to do this”. Basically, we wanted to go where no man has gone before, or at least not many…

C: Something we talked about was getting this relentless, almost monotonous sensation, but within it a lot of movement and action. And of course very loud and abrasive.

There’s almost a point where the listening experience becomes quite meditative for me; the intensity is constant enough for me to “slip into it”. As performers, does that happen for you as well?

O: Yeah absolutely! Although from time to time you slip back into consciousness just to take stock of how it’s going or to check how long we’ve been playing.

R: The best gigs are the ones that feel like we were only playing for a few minutes. During those gigs I feel like I start drifting away in this giant black hole. It’s always great to hear when people have a similar experience when they listen to the album or when they attend a show. Being too cerebral about music might obstruct the profound effect it can have when you just let the experience overwhelm you.

C: The listening experience is definitely meditative or trance-inducing, whatever you want to call it. The sound is so overwhelming and for so long your mind just moves – a lot of people have had the same reaction. When I’m performing it’s the opposite though, very cerebral and completely focused, experiencing every moment. 

How did you come to meet Colin Webster, and what is he like to collaborate with? I’m a big fan of The Claw, his record with Mark Holub – it seems that he really knows how to make his saxophone spit and bray.

R: Not only is he a great sax player, but he’s also the nicest guy! He even showed us the way to London’s best kebab shop, which is our go-to place for dinner when we’re in London. His duo with Mark is extraordinary and the records they released are all really good. I’m happy we have the chance to play together as much as we do.

O: Colin is the future of British saxophone. He’s a mean flute player as well …

C: I met Rene and Otto when I organized a show for them in London, and I believe the second time we met was the recording session for …And It Ended Badly. They have the best attitude towards being in a band than anyone else I’ve met – driving for hours on end all over Europe to play shows and make records. Totally committed and fearless…they also drink huge amounts of coffee.

How have people been receiving the material live? I was totally gutted to miss your set in London, although I understand that it went really well.

O: I always expect that we’ll clear the room in about 15 minutes. It still surprises me we don’t. I guess people can take our 40 minutes of acoustic noise punishment pretty well, and even like it. They actually buy records after the show : )

R: Yes, it is remarkable that people can bear to sit through this whole thing! It also makes me happy, because it proves that audiences are up for almost everything.

C: The reaction has been great, especially when you consider how extreme the music is. In London there was at least one audience member who was back to watch Prime live for a second time.

It seems as though your approach to composition is constantly changing. Is it important for you to re-evaluate your creative method? Is it a means of evading habit?

O: Nah, we just like too much different stuff and then go “let’s do something like that!”. If there’s one thing we stick to it’d be don’t think too much about it and just do it (and make sure to press record).

R: Exactly, just do it and throw all those expectations overboard! Why limit yourself? What’s the worst that can happen when you try something new? Maybe you don’t like it but at least you learn something. Not that bad after all!

C: Obviously I’m not a full-time member, but I know the output of Dead Neanderthals really well, and they also play me a lot of stuff they’re working on. It covers an enormous range, both musically and in terms of collaborators.

What records have you been listening to recently?

O: Flaherty Corsano Duo – Last Eyes, A Golden Jooklo Age one-sided 12″ that doesn’t really seem to have a title, and Johns Lunds & The Infinite Journey To The Fifth Dimension – Plays Paragraph III (also a one-sided 12″!).

R: Cretin – Stranger, Mica Levi – Under The Skin, Morten J. Olsen – Bassdrum!, Brutal Blues – S/T, Nihill – Verderf

C: Gum Takes Tooth – Mirrors Fold, Flaherty Corsano Duo: The Beloved Music, Johns Lunds – Plays Alto Saxophone, Peter Brotzmann / Steve Noble – I Am Here Where Are You

What’s next for Dead Neanderthals?

O: Lots more releases coming up! Also a neat collaboration CD with Dutch bands we regularly seem to play with, aptly titled The New Wave of Dutch Heavy Jazz.

R: Besides a ton of releases we’re also going to do some shows at Eurosonic (mainly off-festival events) and a Spainish/Portuguese tour together with Orthodox. I love Spain and Portugal. Can’t wait to do our first shows in that region!

 

Dead Neanderthals website – deadneanderthals.wordpress.com
Dead Neanderthals Bandcamp – deadneanderthals.bandcamp.com