Satanic Art
CoC chats with Jason Mendonca and David Gray of Akercocke
by: Paul Schwarz
This will be brief, because explaining why I think you should pick up _The Goat of Mendes_ [reviewed in this issue] can be summed up in three sentences. I believe it's probably among the finest examples of extreme metal ever to be pressed onto plastic. Separated from it for a few days, my elation at putting it on again was comparable to the relief and joy of a deprived drug addict. _TGoM_ is a strong contender for ending up as my album of the year. And just as _TGoM_ speaks for itself, so do the members of Akercocke. The band's sincerity belies the idea that they do what they do for any reason other than personal satisfaction, in a creative sense. This interview was conducted in the backroom of Glasgow's Cathouse a few hours before Akercocke performed live, on the 1st of July.

CoC: With the new record out and you touring Europe in September, what does _The Goat of Mendes_ represent as a document of Akercocke in comparison to _Rape of the Bastard Nazarene_ [CoC #42]?

David Gray: _RotBN_ was really... it's like an account of the early days of the band, of the formation of the band. We had a very isolated upbringing; all we knew was the music we had been into in 1990/1991 when Jason and I played in our last band, Salem Orchid. So we just got all the old stuff that we used to be into -- Celtic Frost, and all the usual suspects -- and just got together and used as kind of a template: that was all we...

Jason Mendonca: That was all we knew.

DG: That was all we knew. And I think _RotBN_ is a great document of that time, which was 1998, when we actually recorded _Rape..._. And after that then we became very, err... what's the word? <pause as David looks over to Jason> -Spoilt-, by all the other kind of influences that were opened up to us.

JM: All the stuff that we missed out on, y'know, certainly in my time 'cause I was away from metal for a very long time. Suddenly being back in metal circles, there were so many great bands I'd missed out on. So I had a tremendous amount of stuff to go through. Fortunately, I had a couple of friends with huge CD collections. Ear candy! It was great!

DG: So that's why I think _TGoM_ -- if anyone does think it sounds different, from our point of view it does, that's because we had so much more to contend with. We were absorbing so many different things... Whereas before, y'know, we were just very into doing our own thing.

CoC: I think _TGoM_ definitely shows-off two massive differences. Firstly, the actual production of "The Blast", that particular sound, was much more powerful. _RotBN_ was like a good companion to seeing Akercocke live, but it didn't really bring out your strongest aspects of being very powerful. It actually sounds kind of a bit dry because of the actual production of it, which really didn't work. The other thing is that _TGoM_ is unlike a lot of records from the metal scene in some ways -- it's quite sonically complex and deep. If you listen to it more than four or five times or on headphones there are a lot of extra sounds and effects going on in the background which buff it out. In that sense, would you say it represents more of what you wanted to bring out sonically than _RotBN_ did?

DG: Martin [Bonsoir, in charge of Akercocke's "electronics" and also _TGoM_'s producer -- Paul] had different tools to work with; I think that was the difference.

JM: That is the key difference, isn't it.

DG: With the resources that we had at the time we made a recording of our music -- what was going on -- and that's exactly what we've done second time 'round, but the tools are better.

JM: The thing with the first record is that we're not procrastinators. We don't mess about. We recorded that album live in six hours: the whole band playing live, y'know. No overdubs, no nothing. Yeah, sure, we dropped the guitar solos and vocals on afterwards. And then we spent a lot of time mixing _Rape..._, just purely because... I think there's a quaint expression: polishing a turd. <laughs> We had to try and polish up what was a very rough and ready recording. But, we were and we are still of the philosophy that it's better to do something than to do nothing. So, as David said, that's what we did with the resources that we had to hand. But, we've been very fortunate in that Goat of Mendes studio is now much better equipped with some half-decent equipment. And so -- also the fact that it is our own facility -- we had a great luxury and were very lucky to have that to spend a lot of time with _TGoM_. Sure, sure it could be better, but we're constantly striving to be better.

CoC: You never want to say you've hit the top of your game, of course.

JM: Of course.

CoC: But seeing _RotBN_ almost as a collection of demos is in some ways a more accurate way of looking at it that as a debut album? It's certainly what a couple of people have said, but...

JM: I think that's probably a reflection on the production alone, really.

CoC: True. I mean, from the kind of international perspective where everyone wants to cut up this or that, if someone wants to cut up your debut as being bad, it would be better to see the production as a demo-level recording, I think. _TGoM_ being on a label and having a lot more behind it -- plus the kind of hype and speech about you that you've had from _RotBN_ -- where do you think you can take Akercocke in terms of exposure and popularity?

JM: In terms of exposure and popularity...

CoC: And in terms of touring...

JM: Touring is something that we're very, very keen to do. We're very keen to get out to Europe and play for the European fans. We're out touring period, y'know, wherever. But as far as the publicity and that goes we have no control over that at all. We just concentrate on blasting for Satan. We concentrate on what we do best, y'know, knuckle down, push the boundaries of music and keep writing. At the moment we're writing our third album. We just concentrate on that, y'know. And we're lucky to be afforded the time to do that and we've grown to appreciate what it means to be signed to a good record label insofar as there is a team of people, now, taking care of all those other things, those other important factors that go hand-in-glove with any band.

CoC: Absolutely. One thing I just thought of: in terms of publicity, there is a -certain way- the band will be presented in advertising and in promotional spiel and how worried are you about being misrepresented one way or another?

JM: It's totally honest, it's who we are. Advertising is a tricky one, but as far as the visual representation, the printed matter, the material on the internet, the album sleeves, whatever: we take care of all of that ourselves. So, we're very honest as a band; what you see is what you get, end of story. Spiel is a funny word.

CoC: You have a musical "blasting for Satan" thing and you do have what seems to me to be quite a sincere lyrical content. As opposed to a number of "Satanic", quote/unquote, bands who may write things for what people will take from them or whatever. How much are you trying to bring in any message through that? What are you trying to give to your listeners?

DG: It's totally subjective. Everyone takes something different home from it. As you were saying about you listening to the album on earphones: that's different again from listening to it while you're doing the washing-up, or smashing up your bedroom or whatever it is you want to do when you listen to it. <laughs, as do I> I would never tell anybody anything that they should do or what they should think. I've actually had kids say: "ah, I really like the band and whatever but, I read your lyrics, and I didn't think they were very Satanic". <I pause, before laughing slightly incredulously>

CoC: That doesn't make you wanna make them more "Satanic", obviously, for the next record.

DG: No, what it means is that maybe English is not their first language and they're expecting to hear about blood rites and sacrifices and, you know, comic-strip horror or something. I don't know.

JM: Comic Satanism.

DG: Yeah, but Satanism is not about that, because if it was about that then we'd probably be sat here in God-armour. <I laugh heartily> Y'know, doing the Glen Benton thing. There's nothing wrong with that, y'know, that's fine. But, we're not preaching Hammer Horror Satanism. We're not saying that. What we're saying is: it's very practical. It suits us, it could suit you, y'know, it's up to you; I don't give a shit. <moderate laughter> And as a very functional philosophy and also in the same respect that Christian art is wonderful. Everyone should enjoy Christian art. Churches, y'know, throughout history and also Satanism can create good art, it's just that generally all you see is Glen Benton and all the rest of it. But great things, beautiful things, life-affirming things can be achieved, for non-Satanists to enjoy, from Satanism. That's what I believe. But yeah, at the end of the day everyone interprets lyrics and music in their own way and that's good. I don't try to preach or confuse or whatever: it's not really my job. My job is to try and communicate some sense of atmosphere or feeling for the listener to enjoy.

CoC: Not saying that it's a task, but in choosing to use the word "Satanists" and things like that there will always be people who will misconstrue this and will read "Akercocke are Satanists" and think Glen Benton or whatever, but that doesn't worry you? You'd rather, not exactly -reclaim- the word, but use it and let people get it wrong and then try to understand it rather than you shy away and use some sort of watered-down term...

JM: Personally, I don't really care.

DG: It doesn't really matter, I don't think, really. It's just that I'm not responsible for anybody, and if people want to go and shoot themselves after they listen to our record, or fuck dogs, I don't care.

CoC: Sure, but I was thinking more of the hassles that you might get, the kind of hassles that Sabbath got from -- not even from being real Satanists, but from having their record label stick their inlay in black and that sort of stuff. I mean, if you guys ever head out to the States, depending where you play, you might get into a lot of this and that...

DG: We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

CoC: Fair enough. So, musically, where are you headed for the next record? How far removed will it be from _The Goat of Mendes_, do you predict?

DG: I don't think we contrive to move in any particular direction. I think it has to be natural, and I think it will be still pure Akercocke. We happen to have got three or four songs that we're working on and we really believe that to get the best out of the material that you've got, work things and sleep on it sometimes and think, "Is that working? Is this maybe going on a bit long, a bit short?", whatever, so it is quite early days but we've got lots and lots of stuff floating about. More electronics. More of everything.

CoC: Taking into account what you said earlier about absorbing a lot of music in your years after you were away from metal, with that in mind, how much would you say Akercocke is made within your own sort of bubble? 'Cause one of things I like about Akercocke, personally, is that it doesn't just come across as part of a scene or a band that has done this or that: it has got quite an individual character and that makes it more enjoyable, I think. How much would you say you try to avoid going with the times?

JM: I think it's probably easiest to explain through saying that: when the five of us write together, everyone has an input, and whilst there are key bands that we all share in common as fans, we've all got really, really diverse, eclectic tastes in music. So, each member, in their own way, brings something different to the table. And when we set about to write, we write for ourselves, purely. And we just try to make the music that we'd like to hear. It's as simple as that, and if that means it comes out sounding perhaps a little bit more left-field -- for want of a better adjective -- than some other more generic, kind of derivative bands that may be happening right now, then that's just the way it is. It's just how we write.

CoC: I have a few more questions. Specifically, I remember a year or two years ago when you guys talked to Terrorizer, you were talking about the -specific- lyrical content of _RotBN_. As an overview, what sort of subjects are covered on _TGoM_ apart from the general, catch-all term of "Satanism"?

DG: I've used the metaphor of the nun a lot, and that wasn't intentional. 'Cause everyone thought -- well, not -everyone-, that's a stupid thing to say. But, a lot of people in interviews have said, "So, what's the concept on this record?", or whatever. There isn't... if there is a concept other than Satan then it would be like an emancipation of feeling, of liberation, of celebration. And I used the metaphor of the nun about four or five times. Those songs were constructed over quite a long period. We had "Masks of God" and "...Menstrual Blood..." in 1999 when we talked to Greg Whalen [ex-Terrorizer writer]. We already had some of the songs for _The Goat of Mendes_ then. So, it was a very long period of time. We usually write in a very chaotic way. And, it just so happened that when I came to compile the lyrics I suddenly realised: oh, that's about nuns; oh, that's about nuns. But it wasn't intentional at all. So yeah: mental, sexual liberation, y'know, the whole thing. I try not to work in any specific concept because I think the songs are different. I just try to use it as a table at a buffet, kind of thing, and say: well, this is what this is about, it's not about that. And just kind of create...

JM: You always come back to food analogies, what is this!? You're always presenting buffets to people and baking fucking cakes. <we all laugh as David struggles to begin an answer> You're a fucking cook!

DG: Thing is, when people keep asking the same questions and I keep saying the same answer: it's reliable.

CoC: And it's consistent... if people read different interviews, I guess. Just finally, but, this is a bit of a cliche sort of question...

DG: Oh, go on, give us a cliche!

COC: I've probably come out with a few already but, do you think you'll always be writing about Satanism?

JM: Yes.

DG: There's no <something>

CoC: I'm not questioning whether you'd always be Satanic as people, but do you think you'd ever sort of feel like maybe, maybe that's not a part or is it pretty much symbiotic.

DG: Well, let's just think, yeah: we're in this building now.

CoC: Right.

DG: And, it's on fire.

CoC: Uh-huh.

DG: I'm gonna do what I can to get myself out of this building, first priority. Second priority's gonna to get Jason out of the building because our livelihood, and all the rest of it, our interests are relevant to each other. Now, I'm not gonna get you out of the building, I'm not gonna get your man here out of building, and the reason why is 'cause I'm a Satanist. So, when I walk across the road and someone is going to get run over by a bus or something I have a decision, a moral decision, as to whether I think it's -worth- risking myself to help somebody else. At the end of the day, is it going to be to my benefit to prevent somebody from being hurt? Anything I do in life is a Satanic decision 'cause that's the way that I see life, that's how I view life. So if on our next album there is a song all about celebrating a particular woman or something, that's about Satanism, because that's my viewpoint. The band is all about Satanism. There could never be a non-Satanic Akercocke song.

CoC: I see what you're saying. So you'd say that they'd be Satanic in the sense that they'd come from your worldview.

JM: No Satanism, no Akercocke.

DG: It's not a jacket that you put on to then say: oh, right, now I'm being a Satanist, now we're in a band. Either you are or you aren't.

CoC: If you think what you've said about that is sufficient to describe what kind of Satanism you support in yourselves then that's cool by me. But if you want to mention what perspective that comes from to do with what writers or what views, then you're welcome to say that. Simply for the fact that some people read about you being "Satanists" and will construe it one way or another, and you may want to clarify it. By the expressions on your faces, I'd say you're probably not too concerned.

DG: A lot of places we've been playing the last couple of days I've had a lot of strange people come up to me after shows. You get the classic ones that you tend to get in the street like, "how do I join a coven?". Oh, you're wearing an inverted cross, oh yeah. If you're not a Satanist already then why do you want to get into a coven? And if you -are- a Satanist why would you want to -get- into a coven: either it'll come naturally or it wouldn't. It's very difficult to explain to people that -- it's almost like if you have to ask that question, then...

CoC: ...then you're not really getting it right?

DG: Yeah.

JM: Yeah.

CoC: Fair enough.

DG: But, y'know, I don't think there is anything wrong with people, like-minded, bands or people of that kind of interest, y'know, they should get together and do their own Satanic thing or whatever that may be, y'know, I think that's healthy, to do what you wanna do and whatever. So I don't really think it's really my place.

CoC: Finally, this a stock question: why the suits?

JM: Oh no!

DG: <groans>

<I laugh>

DG: You were doing so well until the last question. <I laugh>

CoC: I really didn't want to ask it, but then I thought: this is gonna be the first interview many people will read with you guys. And, if I don't put in something about the suits, people will go: <I adopt mock-moronic voice> "why didn't you tell us about the suits". If you've got a form letter I can use, about the suits, that would be fine...

DG: We should create one. <to Jason> You've got the standard reply about the suits...

JM: Stock question, stock answer.

CoC: How about I give you what I think -- what I can remember from when you talked to Terrorizer.

DG: Go on.

CoC: I remember you saying that there isn't any -really- specific thing about it but that it's what you guys wear in general...

JM: Pretty much, apart from when we're unloading buses.

CoC: And that it's what you wore in the covens, I believe, though I don't know whether that's the connection.

JM: There is a practical connection with regards to an organisation outside of what we discuss, but more than that -- not more than that, as well as that, it's a symbolic thing. It's symbolic of our discipline. We're very, very disciplined people. We're very disciplined in -all- respects. To be a Satanist requires discipline. To be a musician at this level requires discipline: we practice four times a week, -at least-, every week. The suits are just like a visual representation of our discipline. We're not scruffy kinds of guys, we're not jeans and T-shirts kind of guys in day-to-day life. We're smart guys, we're gentlemen.

[Note: After deliberation with people who actually live in the US, I have reconsidered my opinion -- as expressed to Akercocke in the above interview -- that Akercocke would likely get hassles if they went to the States. My opinion as I write this is that a band of their size with an esoteric name such as their name would likely not be noticed. Just as Norway's black metal bands (including convicted arsonists in the case of Emeperor) had few hassles when they made the trip over the pond, Akercocke should too. -- Paul]

(article submitted 12/8/2001)


CHATS
6/20/2006 J Smit /
P Schwarz
Akercocke: Words From the Exit Wound
ALBUMS
5/25/2007 J Smit 9.5 Akercocke - Antichrist
10/17/2005 J Smit 9.5 Akercocke - Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone
11/23/2003 J Smit 8.5 Akercocke - Choronzon
8/12/2001 P Azevedo 8.5 Akercocke - The Goat of Mendes
8/12/1999 P Schwarz 9 Akercocke - Rape of the Bastard Nazarene
GIGS
7/29/2004 J Smit Akercocke / Mystic Circle / In Aeternum Deicide? We Didn't Need No Stinkin' Deicide!
4/19/2004 J Smit Morbid Angel / Akercocke A Ghouls Night Out
2/16/2004 A Lineker Arch Enemy / Akercocke Sad Eyes Question Future.
12/26/2003 J Smit Deicide / Destruction / Nile / Akercocke / Dew-Scented / Graveworm / Misery Index Redemption at the Palace
5/18/2003 J Smit Cradle of Filth / Akercocke Damnation and a Monday Night
8/12/2001 P Azevedo Katatonia / Akercocke / Gandalf Brave Redrum Night
8/12/2000 P Schwarz Dismember / Akercocke / Infestation / Regorge Scotland Skinned Alive
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