Interview: Hyde & Beast

By on Thursday, 25th August 2011 at 12:00 pm

It’s something of a cliché to denigrate the musical abilities of drummers, stretching back to the old “Is Ringo the best drummer in the world? He not even the best drummer in the Beatles!” joke, and probably far further than that. The drummer is more often than not the most wacky and unhinged member of their respective bands, the zenith of such virtues being the crazed and ultimately self-destructive antics of Keith Moon, who did very little to inhibit the stereotype of drummers as party fiends – out on the town while their peers are back in the hotel room, writing the next album.

One slightly less explored facet of the drummer’s mindset is that of frustrated musician: while their bandmates are debating chord sequences, melody lines, and harmony, they’re stuck behind the kit, with no notes to play. Dave Hyde, Futureheads’ sticksman, has clearly outgrown life behind the kit and is taking advantage of a break in the Futureheads’ output to put together a project of his own. Teaming up with Neil “Beast” Bassett, formerly of defunct Sunderland band the Golden Virgins and now running his own studio, Hyde & Beast last week released their debut album, ‘Slow Down’, and played a handful of launch gigs.

They make a slightly odd couple, the younger, slighter, more provocative Hyde in contrast to the tall, greying, bearded, more considered Bassett. But as will become clear, the partnership works well. TGTF caught up with them over a beer at the Cluny 2, their almost-homecoming gig, in Newcastle rather than their hometown of Sunderland. So chaps, given Dave already has a band, and Neil is busy with his studio, how did this all start?

Dave Hyde: We’ve known each other as buddies for twelve years or so, and when the ’Heads decided to take some time off, I was bored and decided to record a couple of songs I’d had for a while.
Neil “Beast” Bassett: Dave came into the studio just to record two of his songs, and that was going to be it, but we liked them, and Dave kept coming back. It’s a nice hideout, you can escape from the world in there, and I think Dave wanted to hide from the world for a bit.
Dave: I wanted to start paying rent!
Neil: So after Dave put down his first two songs, I got involved a bit more, in production and lyric writing, and it just grew from there. There was never an intentional plan to start a band, that only came about when we had about nine songs, and we thought, “Wait a minute, that’s almost an album!” But I think even then, we were just going to do an album for ourselves really, we never thought anyone else would be interested in it. But some people at the Futureheads’ management heard it and they spurred us on a little bit and said, this is actually good!

Dave: When we showed friends some of the songs, they thought it was good, and we were liking it ourselves, because we were making it, and listening to it a lot…
Neil: Everything I’ve ever done musically in the past I think is good – you wouldn’t do it otherwise. Whatever you’re doing at the time, if you finish it, must be good enough for you to finish. So it’s hard to figure out whether stuff actually is good. So it was when other people started to say it was good, we were like, “Really?”
Dave: It egged us on a bit, gave us that boost of confidence that we needed, without really asking for it.
Sounds like a nicely organic approach to songwriting.
Dave: A track a day without really any ideas at the start of the day, and at the end of the day we’d have a tune.
Neil: It almost feels like the songs wrote themselves. We didn’t know what we had at the start of the day, the next nine hours are a bit of a blur, because it’s a bit of a weird studio, it’s dark in there, you can go a bit crazy and a bit cabin feverish. Then there always seemed to be a moment at the end of the day where almost a light came on, and you listen back to it and say, “Wow! There’s a song! Where did that come from?”
Dave: Very organic. Very green!

How’s it translating live?
Dave: It’s different, I think it’s a little heavier than the album, only because we don’t want to make people go to sleep, we want people to dance every now and again.
Neil: It was odd when we first started rehearsing, because anything that we’ve both done in the past has been played as a band first, so when it comes to playing live, it’s easy, because you’ve already played them live, just not in front of people. Whereas here, Dave played 90% of the stuff on the album, and it was all thrown together, so we were like, “How did we do that?” But we worked it out.
Dave: The difficult thing was for me and him to remember what we’d played.

Neil: When we were recording, Dave would say, “I want to put a guitar on here, how about this?” and play some chord or other, and we’d record it, so lots of parts have literally been played once. So when it came to playing live, we had to pull up the session tracks on the computer and then listen though to work it out.
Dave: And when we heard it, half the time we were like, “What actually is that?”

There’s a lot of unusual sounds on the album.
Neil: There’s all sorts on there, like the sound of a balloon with a kazoo in being let down. A lot of the stuff we’d take normal sounds and pitch shift it down a couple of octaves. I tended to name things in an onomatopoeic way, so there’s something on there called “vibro-cymbal” with this whump-whump sound, and we had to try and figure out how we’d made that sound. And why it was even on there! I think there were studio pixies – we’d stop and lock up the studio, and they’d come out with some LSD and have a little pixie party and record vibro-cymbals over our songs without us there!

Were the Beatles and T. Rex stylings deliberate?
Dave: The sounds are deliberate, but we didn’t say beforehand, let’s make this sound like the Beatles.
Neil: That’s the sort of music we like to listen to, so it was fun for me to try and reproduce those sounds. There’s a little bass solo on Louis’ Lullaby, that we put in because we loved the bass sound so much. We put a drum head up against the bass amp, then we miked up the drum, which gave a slightly discordant, ‘Pet Sounds’ feel to the bass. We cleared a space in the song just for that sound because you can’t hear how beautiful it sounds with everything else on there. The sound of T. Rex guitars are a specific amp, and pedals, and guitar, which we didn’t have. So we tried different things, and ended up with a Hamptone valve pre-amp, hand-built in America, and it’s just got one big tank-like dial, that the more you turn it up the dirtier it gets. It’s a combination of that, and Dave’s £10 Woolworths guitar that he uses.
Dave: It’s a Japanese Audition guitar, which is a bag of shit, but it works!

What do you think about the North-East scene? It was a blow that the Ignition festival got cancelled.
Dave: We didn’t think it was going to happen, to be honest. It was a festival that got too ambitious, too soon.
Neil: The Futureheads run Split festival in Sunderland, which started off about 5,000 people and is growing very slowly. There’s too many festivals, people can’t afford to go to a festival every weekend.
Dave: We’ve got high hopes about Split, but it’s not a huge festival, we’re trying to cater for 5,000 or 6,000 people, instead of growing too quickly.

It would be nice for Sunderland to get one over Newcastle by having a festival that actually works!

Dave: Sunderland’s a vibrant place for music at the minute.
Neil: Newcastle as a city is very metropolitan. I like coming here for a night out, but I think because Sunderland isn’t so metropolitan, and it doesn’t have the good record shops, or the bars, or the venues, the people that are in bands aren’t following the current hot new thing. By the time bands get to hear the hot new thing, it was recorded a year ago, and the record industry are already onto something new. But because bands in Sunderland aren’t following that, they don’t know what’s fashionable, people just do their own thing. When the Futureheads came out, there wasn’t anybody else that had a sound like that, same with Field Music, same with Frankie and the Heartstrings, with their ’50s element, there was no-one doing that. And I think it comes across – people just do their own thing.
Dave: People are bored shitless in Sunderland it seems! So being in a band is the only thing to do. That and going to Nando’s.
Neil: I like the idea that your surroundings somehow subconsciously influence your sound. I like the story of this punky hardcore band from Northumberland, China Drum – they played about 1,000 miles an hour, their songs were so fast. And in an interview they were asked why the songs were so fast, and it turns out they used to rehearse in a pig barn on someone’s farm, which didn’t have any heating, and the only way to stay warm was to play fast songs! And my studio’s very warm, so we play very slowly!

Thanks to Natasha for her help in setting this interview up for us.

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