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AKERCOCKE


Akercocke - Beware the Dogs of Satan!
By Dr. Abner Mality


  I love film noir movies. After classic horror, these moody masterpieces of black and white crime fiction seem to speak to me most strongly, with their deep, all-enveloping shadows and equally dark characters. When I saw the cover to Akercocke's latest CD "Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone", I immediately noticed the visual connection to the works of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and even James Elroy.

Jason Mendonca, the erudite and well-spoken lead vocalist of this challenging British band, was delighted I spotted the connection, as he is also quite a fan of the genre. There is a line connecting the decadence of Akercocke's progressive death metal to the mysterious world of film noir and "Words That Go Unspoken..." traces that line with an unerring accuracy.

No band today is really exploring the same musical territory as Akercocke. Brutal as a bulldozer running amuck but with as much complexity and decadent beauty as a Byzantine mosaic, their music is just plain DARK. It takes a lot of attention and willingness to dig deeper to understand it...which, of course, is another strong connection to film noir.

I found Jason to be perhaps the most delightful interview subject I've ever had at Wormwood and I think you will enjoy our chat even if you're one of those poor souls who doesn't understand the darkness of Akercocke...


WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Your previous album "Choronzon" was so incredible...how much pressure were you under to come up with a follow-up?

JASON MENDONCA: I don't feel any pressure at all, really. That sounds arrogant but it's not intended to be arrogant. We don't really think too much about what we do, we just do it! We're really just about getting four friends together in a room, having a good time and doing what we do best. I think the new album is a logical progression from "Choronzon", we never stop writing. It's a continuous stream of consciousness that gets divided into an album. From the first album we did to the most recent, we never stop, it's a constantly rolling ball.

WC: So the new record has been floating around for a while in your head?

JM: Definitely! We played some of the material from the new one on our U.S. tour last October. It's been kicking around quite a while.

WC: I'm of the opinion that "Words That Go Unspoken" is just as much a progressive rock album as a death metal one...

JM: Whoa! That's a very interesting thing to say!

WC: My definition of progressive is a bit different than the norm. It's not just imitating Yes or Dream Theater. To me, it's more like pushing music into areas where it hasn't been before. That's why I think Akercocke is progressive rock, would you agree?

JM: Firstly, I have to concur with your description of prog. And yeah, I think the new record is kind of prog. We're trying to do stuff that's a little bit different, but I suppose as we've gotten older and become more experienced as songwriters and musicians, we've been in a better position to paint pictures with different colors. I guess time they've wound up being kind of proggy, which is a good thing.

WC: I can hear echoes of Rush and even The Mission creeping into your music. I also think your music is very cinematic, almost like a movie soundtrack.

JM: Wow, thank you, sir! That's a really nice thing to say. It's unintentional, actually. I'm very much into sound that goes with pictures, actually, but moreover I'm into sound that paints pictures in people's minds. I view music in very visual terms. I personally use colors and pictures as reference points for sounds as I hear them. If the album is painting "sound pictures" for other people, then that's a great thing.

WC: Some of your instrumentals are effective that way. There's a very Middle Eastern sounding one on the latest album. It sounds like there's a pack of snarling wolves or jackals on that one?

JM: It's fighting dogs! David and I have been talking about making that track for years and years and years! The only thing that ever stopped us from doing it was the fact that we couldn't get our hands on the sound of fighting dogs. We managed to overcome that obstacle so we finally got to make that track but in all seriousness...I don't know why except that we're just weird...we've been talking about making that track for ages.

WC: One obvious difference about the new CD is that the cover doesn't have naked ladies and goats all over it. (Jason starts laughing uproariously) It looks very film noir-ish...

JM: I'm so glad you spotted that, Mike! That's fucking great, that was the intention all along!

WC: I'm a fan of old films and I love stuff with Bogart, Robert Mitchum...

JM: Amazing! Me, too! I am definitely a fan of those films and also the imagery that goes with them as well. That was the exact intention of the cover, to create a noir image, and I'm really glad you picked up on that. We're all big fans of movies, period, actually. Personally I'm a big fan of really old movies, I love the ancient Hammer horror films but also film noir like "Quicksand", "Scarlet Street", Sinatra in "Suddenly". All amazing stuff and if you look at some of the stills from these movies, there's such a high contrast of black and white...

WC: The composition of the shot is intense.

JM: Yeah! There's some fantastic film-making there and we drew some influence from that. We look at this album as progressing from album #3 and it seemed fitting to kind of push the visual envelope as well. Dave, our drummer, wasn't too happy about that originally, because he's obsessed with tits and goats. (laughter) . He contributed to the final cover very greatly by drawing some wonderful illustrations of naked women and goats, so he kind of kept the yin-yang balance we were after.

WC: I'm glad you haven't given it up completely. (laughter)

JM: Wait till you see what it looks like on the actual release. He managed to sneak a few in there. We were trying to grow up a little on this release, but Dave went "Guys...no! Keep the fucking goats and the tits in!"

WC: Going back to the film noir concept, if it's not in black and white, I don't consider it a true noir. The shadows and the contrasts make it so moody.

JM: Yeah, I agree with you. I think there's only a couple of color films that successfully capture that mood and they're not obvious attempts at it. In fact, I think the films that did that did it more by accident than by design. George A. Romero did a film called "Martin", I don't know if you recall it, about a modern day vampire who did things in a medical way, not a supernatural way.

WC: You don't know if he's a real vampire or just a sick kid...

JM: Exactly. But the atmosphere in some of that, especially where they have the weird dream sequences of him escaping up a huge staircase and stuff...it's like whoa, that's got a very noir vibe to it. But it's not monochrome. Overall, though, I'm definitely with you, it should be in black and white.

WC: I know you've had a line-up change in the band since "Choronzon". If you could give me a rundown of that and what does your new recruit bring to the band?

JM: He brings violence to the table! Matt's crazy, he comes from the band The Berzerker and I think Akercocke offers him the opportunity to show different sides to his playing. He's a very, very talented guitarist and he's very diverse in his abilities, but for us, he kind of keeps us grounded in brutality. Pete, David and I are really old friends, we go back more than two decades. The point about Dave, Pete and I is that we'd probably disappear up our own asses in obscurity, experimentation and weirdness generally, because we have that bent. Well, Matt comes along and he says (imitating Australian accent) "Oh yeah? Check these riffs out guys!" And he just brings these riffs to the table that are so ridiculously violent that we have to include them! So I think he keeps us grounded in the good old metal brutality.

WC: Technical ability is always something you look at when you bring in a new member, but Akercocke is known for having its own dark philosophy. Does a new recruit have to be in line with that? Is there a kind of "litmus test" as far as philosophy and mentality goes?

JM: Mentality, yeah. Philosophically, no. Completely by chance, Matt's kind of aligned with similar ideas to ourselves. But there was no litmus test. It was more important for us to find someone we could communicate with very well and someone who could just fit right in. We were quite nervous about that, actually. We played for nine years with his predecessor Paul and to break up the original line-up was a situation we were all pretty down about. So we were very pleased to find someone who could get along with us. It must be pretty weird for somebody coming from the outside in to mix with these three guys who are really, really old friends. We almost had a fuckin' telepathic link, I'm serious. We were not classically trained, you know, we had our own weird terminology to express musical ideas. We were like "My God, this must be so weird for somebody coming on board!" But fuck, Matt's right up to the challenge and he's done a great job.

WC: How do you, individually or as a band, see the devil? Is he a gentleman, is he a beast? There's aspects of both in your music.


JM: To be quite frank, I don't actually believe in the devil. To me, the Judeo-Christian idea of the devil doesn't exist in that sense, but the image of that is a very strong one and it's certainly one that David draws upon lyrically. He does write poetically about that horned demon, but the devil's not actually something we believe in literally.

WC: Maybe the devil is a symbol for a force that exists in man...

JM: Quite so, yeah...it's metaphoric. Satan as an idea is metaphoric to us as people, so the essence of Satan in the many ways he is represented throughout literature and history is something we draw upon. There's such a rich tapestry of different stories and images to draw upon. I don't think there's anything wrong with drawing upon elements of the fantastic even if the band's personal beliefs contrast with that.

WC: They say the devil does have all the best music...(laughter). You guys are really representing a kind of lifestyle. Immaculate suits, big cars, pretty women. It reminds me somewhat of the Hellfire Club, a real group that existed in the 18th century. On the outside they were prosperous businessmen, but inside, I guess they were sick as hell of the Church, the Crown, high society. All their rituals were a kind of catharsis. Is that what Akercocke is, a way to bleed out some of these negative aspects?

JM: Akercocke for me has always been a very, very cathartic thing, but I know where you're coming from as far as the 18th Century Hellfire Club, Sir Francis Dashwood and the Order of the Knights of West Wickham and all that goes. I think they were aristocrats who were trying to shun the confines of the society of the time. My personal take on it is that it was just an excuse to have a whole bunch of perverted sex! (laughter) Whilst I'm all for getting really fucking drunk and having as much intercourse with pretty ladies as possible...these are things to be celebrated and enjoyed...whilst we verbally and musically celebrate the spirit of indulgence, by contrast we actually have to be quite disciplined as people to do what we do. And by saying that, I mean we're all regular guys, we have regular jobs, we have families, but we all meet up four times a week to do this weird thing known as Akercocke and we enjoy do it greatly.

WC: Have you gotten any flack from mainstream society for your image and your views?

JM: No, absolutely not, actually, which is really odd. The United Kingdom has become desensitized in many, many ways. The Moral Majority has become the Moral Minority here, they're not as visible anymore. Church attendance is really down over here. Churches are being sold off by realtors. I think subsequently we haven't gotten any real official flack. We get the occasional nutcase who gets offended by what we do. When we toured America in 2004 and got to the Bible Belt, we thought "OK, maybe now there might be some folk who might object to us". But really, the only people we met other than the fans were really nice ladies in supermarkets who wanted to hear our English accents.

WC: Things have gotten rather scary over here in the last couple of years.

JM: In what sense, Mike?

WC: In school, they're trying to teach stuff like "The dinosaurs became extinct because Noah ran out of room on the Ark".

JM: Oh no...

WC: They are trying to put a plaque on the Grand Canyon that says "This was caused by the Great Flood"...(Jason groans "Oh,man...) Other countries are going to go past us because they teach real science, mathematics and engineering and we have religious kooks that have staged a coup of our country. It's very much the opposite of what you described happening over in England.

JM: It's a fucking amazing phenomenon. I think here in the 70's because we were in such a tremendous decline, Billy Graham led major missions to London and had a tremendous rise in popularity. He started filling up football stadiums, which was unheard of, and that persisted here through the 80's. On my visits to the US, I'm always fascinated to watch the "God Channels". I find myself in cheap hotels watching the God Channels and watching some guy trying to extract money from people. It's absolutely satanic! (laughter) And you know what amazes me? If anybody accuses me...and to be honest,it doesn't happen often...of selling out with what we do...Fucking hell, get real! First, this is what we do, it's just really weird. Secondly, if I really wanted to sell out, I'd be making Christian rock music because those guys are filling fucking stadiums! (snorts) They're selling loads of records and it's pretty much off the radar of the accepted music media channels.

WC: One of the credos that I live by is that I will watch no TV show with a phone number at the bottom of the screen.

JM: (laugher). That's great! Your country is an amazing paradox of both mediocrity and extremity.

WC: Do you guys have any plans to come over here and play?

JM: Oh shit, yeah! I'm really hoping so, we had such a fuckin' ball last time, it was great! We were privileged to meet the ordinary American people because we're tainted by the propaganda we receive through the media about your country. It was fucking amazing to come over and just meet ordinary people and chew the cud with them in regular places. My time in America last year was incredible!

WC: That's kind of what you have to do in any country, go out and meet the regular folk.

JM: Yeah, then you hear the voices of the people. I'm really confident that we're gonna be right back over in early 06 and play some shows for you guys.

(We then spend some time discussing our respective jobs and I mention that I recently talked to Judas Priest as part of my webzine work.)

JM: Wicked! Who did you talk to?

WC: Ian Hill, and he was great, a regular bloke. Also got to meet Joey from Anthrax recently.

JM: Oh wow! A nice guy?

WC: Yeah, pretty nice, very down to earth. With virtually no exceptions, everybody I've talked to has been that way. Including yourself!

JM: (laughter) That's very kind of you to say, sir!

WC: It's cool to go off the music track once in a while and talk about other things...

JM: Totally...you can only rap about records for so long, right?

WC: Well, let's go back to movies! You talked earlier about Hammer horror films. My particular fave was "Brides of Dracula".

JM: Ohhhh, great movie!

WC: You can't go wrong with Peter Cushing, he was such a class act!

JM: Absolutely and he is perhaps my favorite actor!

WC: It's sad that they don't have guys like him, Price and Karloff around anymore. I like a lot of the imagery in the old silent movies, too...there was a little bit of that in the cover of "Words That Go Unspoken", too.

JM: Yeah,yeah, yeah. There was a lot of great visuals from that period.

WC: "Metropolis" by Fritz Lang...

JM: A work of genius without a doubt!

WC: Has there ever been a memorable Spinal Tap moment from the history of Akercocke that you would like to share with the readers?

JM: Oh man, that's really, really hard because our band IS Spinal Tap! We ARE Spinal Tap! To be put on the spot like that is really difficult...(laughter)

WC: First one that hits you...

JM: First one that hits me! Ummmm....all I can say is that we ate a lot of weenies when we came to America! (laughter) We were pretty horrified! We wound up calling them "satanodogs"!(more laughter) It seemed the only time we'd ever get to eat is when everything was closed after a show. Marty, our driver, would be insistent in knocking a big hole in our drive to the next state or wherever. We'd leave a show, we'd be starving and we'd stop for petrol and invariably end up eating "satanodogs".

WC: Those kind they have turning on those rollers?

JM: Two for a dollar or whatever! They were just ultimately evil and it became a running joke with us. "Who is going to load themselves up on satanodogs tonight?"

WC: Those kind of dogs are bad. They are like microwave burritos, those are from the bowels of hell, to put it mildly.

JM: (laughter)

WC: When you come to Chicago, you do want to try and find a place that serves a good Chicago hot dog, those are a whole different world.

JM: My friend, I was in Chicago a few months ago and the same guy, Marty, took us to place and we had fantastic chili dogs in Chicago, absolutely awesome!

WC: A Mobil station is not the place for hot dogs! (laughter) Any closing words for fans here in America?

JM: Stay fuckin' brutal and don't elect that prick again...

WC: Well, he's not supposed to run anyway, but he might find a way around that...(laughter)

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