The Fierce and the Dead – This has given us some distance from our own material

The Fierce and the Dead are prog gone wild. You need them in your life. We explain why, with help from bass man, Kev.

The Fierce & The Dead, based in London UK, came about from a recording experiment that was initially intended for guitarist’s Matt’s second solo album, but it started to grow legs and arms and evolved into its own animal.

We were intrigued. They’re a new one to us, but their pedigree is in no doubt, having played with everyone from Hawkwind to Crippled Black Phoenix, Evil Blizzard, Big Business and Monkey 3 via festivals in the USA and UK. Their London shows sell out months in advance and the band tour constantly. There are three full length albums including their most recent The Euphoric via BEM Records alongside multiple EPs and other assorted bits and pieces.

This month saw the band release a live EP, recorded at The Hope and Anchor in February 2020 and it’s a belter. Recorded about 12 months ago, it was the last gig the band played before the pandemic kicked in.

So, we dialled them up and got Kev, the band’s bass player on the Zoom thing. He’s a lovely guy and we could have gassed over a pint or five for the whole evening. Oh, how we wish. Here’s how we got on:

P3dro: Where are and what are you doing?

Kev: At the moment, at home in East London, speaking to you from my little back room, where I have all my music set up. As a band we’re trying to learn a new way of writing, recording and moving forwards. So, yeah, that’s what we’re doing.

P3dro: Yeah, quite a lot of people have been saying similar. Have you managed to get anything done?

Kev: Yes, in a word. It’s been a bit of a learning curve. I work as an audio engineer, so, I’ve always mixed all of our material. So, my end of things has been alright. It’s a weird one, because it was always coming anyway. We all have families and other commitments and getting us all together in a room was quite a pain anyway, so this has almost forced the issue, now.

The technology available now is insane. I believe it’s given a slightly different edge. We’re now drafting material [between us]. Previously we’d have been in a rehearsal room doing riffs, play it loud for five minutes and job done. But, in a strange way, and to draw a positive, this has given us some distance from our own material.

P3dro: Tell us a bit about the band. Where do you come from, how did you form, how did you get together?

Kev: Well, starting at the beginning, there are four of us and we all grew up in a town called Rushden, in Northamptonshire. It had quite an eclectic music scene, as was the way in the 1990s. There were these little isolated pockets of culture and it was a great place to grow up back then. And a lot of our musical heroes are the people we grew up with. They were the ones we could go and see.

So, we were all in bands with each other, on and off, over the years. Then, gradually, as people from provincial towns, we all escaped to various parts of the country. Over the next ten years or so, we were all moving around the country, but still kept in touch.

And then we all ended up in London in the early 2000s and by 2010 we’d put a band together, which is The Fierce and the Dead.

It actually started with our guitarist, Matt [Stevens], who was a quite prolific solo artist, although he hates that term, but that’s what he was doing.

The first thing was did was a track called ‘Part 1’, which was going to be something for Matt’s record. Stuart, Matt and I had played together for so many years. So we did that, but the idea was to edit it down for Matt’s album, but I was listening to it as I was mixing it and it just sort of kept unwinding. I couldn’t find the place where I could cut it so that it still made sense further on. It was this kind of intuitive thing that just kept rolling.

It was never an ideological stance. It was literally an accident, it was something we just played live and then recorded it live in my old studio. The dynamics came and went, Matt played through it and it just unfolded. And, then for the sake of something a bit different, we stuck an electronic bit in the middle and there it was.

So, we thought: “You know what? Sod it, let’s just put it out like this”. And then it got more attention than anything we’d ever done.

P3dro: Yeah, we like it. We enjoy listening to those bands who aren’t afraid to do things like that – to give the music space to breathe and to expand.

Kev: Thanks. We keep getting asked why are we an instrumental band? Why have you chosen not to have vocals?

We haven’t actually chosen not to have vocals and, in fact, some of the new material probably will have vocals. So, we never set out to start an instrumental band, but we grew up with a lot of, I don’t know, alt-rock? I’m not sure what to call it. Things like Steve Albini was doing and Don Caballero and all these kinds of bands. Maybe the beginnings of Math Rock. It was just normal for people to have instrumental tracks.

So, it didn’t seem like a big thing for us. It was just normal. But, then when it gets onto a bigger stage, rock audiences are saying: “When does the singing start?”

So, after ‘Part 1’ we thought: “Let’s just do an album and do the same thing.” So, the first album, ‘If it Carries on Like This, We’re Moving to Morecambe‘ was mostly improvised in the studio. We never really wrote anything. We would have a riff or an idea and we thought we’d just go into a studio and play live. That worked out, but then we realised we couldn’t play any of it live, because Matt had done a lot of layering with guitars and the like.

So, that’s when we called on Steve Cleaton to join. And at that point, it all became like we were a proper band. Which is then when we recorded the ‘On VHS’ EP. That’s more a band in a rehearsal room and I think you can hear that. The engine has started revving a bit more.

And we kept moving on from there.

I’m very proud that most of our records don’t sound the same. That’s come from us never really knowing what we are. Nobody has ever come in with something that we haven’t been able to adapt into something the band can do.

I don’t really want to sound like two guitars, bass and drums. I think there’s so much more invention we can do, especially in the studio.

I’m a studio head, man. I’m always thinking of things like that. We’re massive fans of bands like The Flaming Lips and St Vincent, people who really take those sonic possibilities and run with them. We like that.

But, we also like massive riffs! So, we have to try and make those meet up in the middle.

P3dro: Where does the name [of the band] come from?

Kev: I have absolutely no idea. Honestly. Matt came up with it ages ago. And even he’s not really sure what it was about. It was just something that he maybe have misheard, or he wrote it down once, or … And then it became a name and we thought it sounded alright. Mysterious, or something. I dunno. But it stuck.

We like the acronym – TFATD – that works, too.

It doesn’t have any particular deep meaning, it’s just one of those things that somebody said, and now that’s us.

P3dro: Tell us about the Hope & Anchor EP

Kev: That was the last gig we played. It’s so insane to think of it now. At the time, we were due to play a festival at the end of March in Holland, but our drummer Stuart had managed to damage his arm quite seriously and so we hadn’t been able to play together for quite some time until he recovered.

So, there was this big gig coming up. Meanwhile in the background there were these news reports of Covid, which was slowly creeping up. We’d booked the Hope & Anchor gig as a warm up. We really like that venue – it’s only about 100 people and we’re really lucky that we have a great bunch of fans who will always come to our gigs. It’s a bit like an AGM where everybody gets together, everybody knows each other, and it’s really good fun.

So, it’s a really nice environment for us to run through our material and have a good time. But then, two days before that gig, we’d started getting news reports about washing hands and not shaking hands with people. And it just seemed like background – OK, but it’s fine. So, we did the gig and had loads of fun. Stuart’s arm was fine. And then, we realised this was serious. And then it happened and that was it.

That was also the last time I’d seen any of the band in person.

P3dro: What was the trigger for releasing some of that gig as a live EP?

Kev: We had started to get into the habit, wherever possible, of recording our shows. By doing gigs and selling merch we’d raised the funds to enable us to do the festival gig in Holland, but when that was cancelled, we had a bit of spare money that we could put towards recording. So, [initially] we had no intention of putting that show out, but when Bandcamp started doing Bandcamp Fridays, we thought it sounds good, so we may as well put it out.

We’re always conscious of trying to give people something that we think has some worth, but also, we had nothing else ready at the time that we could release. It’s partly to keep us ticking over and partly to thank people for helping us out as well.

It turned out that we actually quite liked it too.

P3dro: There are a few bands who have released live material over the course of the last year. It seems to have become a thing. People have been looking back at what they’ve got because they can’t play together, or get into a recording studio, yet they still want to put stuff out there.

Kev: Exactly, yeah. I have to say, when I opened up the project and started looking at it, it genuinely made me a bit emotional. It just seems so other-worldly now. [It shows] how much we, and a lot of other people, took for granted. The joy of just being in a room together and having that shared experience is something we’ve always loved. Playing in front of an audience is a collaborative effort – that’s always been the way we’ve seen live shows. Hearing that gig again, after so long, and remembering it was quite emotional really.

P3dro: How have the last 10 months been for the band?

Kev: I have to say, we live in a wonderful time. The software available has meant that things like amp simulations can be done. We managed to raise enough funds so that our drummer now has a midi drum kit. And that was a big thing for him, because he has nowhere he can play drums at the moment. For a musician to have the thing they do taken away from them is really hard. So, we’ve been very lucky to have been able to do that.

We’re all learning how to send each other files, how to collaborate effectively and keep track of projects. So, this has been an entirely new thing for us, because normally, we would write in rehearsal rooms. Now, we have this totally different way of working.

Over the time, we’ve really started to enjoy it, but we have the material at a point now where we want to take it into a room and play it. That’s the final part and that’s the bit that’s missing, the interaction between us.

It has been surreal, but thank God for technology.

P3dro: So, what do you think will be coming next in terms of releases?

Kev: We’re trying to make sure we keep quality levels high. We don’t want to rush anything. Neither do we want to form anything. We’ve had quite a few conversations about how brainwashed some musicians are about the old way of doing things. The album cycle where you release an album, tour it, release an album and tour it and so on. That’s not as relevant now as it once was and doesn’t really mean that much any more. That’s because of the ways in which we can get music out to people, and doing the sort of music we do.

Bizarrely, one of the main inspirations for us stopping and re-assessing what we do is a lot like how, say the hip-hop scene works, where they will put out one or two tracks, or, perhaps, a mix tape of six or seven tracks, and then maybe there’ll be an album.

There are no barriers on what is released, or when it’s released. As long as the quality is high and people understand what it is they are getting. That really appeals to me.

[Initially] we thought we were writing for another album. But, then we realised, maybe we should just write. And then, when it feels right, we’ll put it out as an EP, or as a single, or as an album, or however feels right. The important thing for us is to keep on writing.

We realised that there were times we didn’t write stuff as good as we were capable of doing, simply because we wanted to keep momentum, so if we wrote 10 tracks for an album, and because they are the only tracks we have, we put them all on the album. We’re not Fleetwood Mac, we can’t spend a year in the studio, write 35 songs and choose the best ten, or whatever

But, now we’re aware that if we keep writing [and then get to a point] where it feels like a body of work, or even a single track, then to get it out. The beauty of the internet is that if we release new music, say next week, then people will continue to discover it, even years later. So rather than putting all our effort into a physical release and then to have it tail off after a short time, we can be effectively constantly releasing our music.

If we get this right and we can get our writing process nailed down, then we can keep going, producing music and put things out when we’re happy with them.

P3dro: Recommend a band or an album you think we should be listening to right now.

Kev: At the moment, I’ve been listening to a lot of Boards of Canada. Listening to their stuff now and I think how prophetic they were and how they’ve seeped into the mainstream. It’s like normal now. But it still sounds fresh and new – ‘Music Has The Right To Children’ – that’s the one.

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