Words From the Exit Wound
Jackie Smit & Paul Schwarz of CoC chat with Jason Mendonca & David Gray of Akercocke
by: Jackie Smit / Paul Schwarz
Anyone who has been following the quintessential authority on all things metal, affectionately referred to as CoC, will know there's been quite a buzz about Akercocke around here for some time now. Admittedly it has taken this writer slightly longer to be convinced than others, but after two albums as devastating and innovative as 2003's _Choronzon_ and last year's metallic tour de force _Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone_, it's hard not to find oneself agreeing with the hype surrounding extreme metal's best dressed exponents. I teamed up with CoC veteran Paul Schwarz on the eve of the band's stunning turn at London's Day Into Night festival to interrogate founding members Jason Mendonca and David Gray on all things Akercocke in 2006 and beyond.

CoC - Paul Schwarz: You've had a tough time -- over the last couple of years especially -- but you've also done very well to push on from a record like _Choronzon_ to an album like _Words That Go Unspoken..._, and it definitely feels as though the band's profile is raised quite a bit now. How do you feel about the way that things have turned out?

Jason Mendonca: About the profile business, I'm really in no position to speak about it. I have no idea. But I would say that we have started joking about the "curse of the monkey", because it really seems to us that whatever goes wrong with this band -- touring for us just seems to be cursed.

CoC - PS: But has it been good to get out and do more shows, especially after the frustration of having the European tour with Deicide cancelled?

JM: Oh, it's been superb, but the last European tour, for example, there was the incident with Will Rahmer (Mortician) that was a bit of a downer, because he's a really good friend of mine. It was a very unpleasant business, so there was the curse again. You mentioned the Deicide thing, which happened because of whatever was going on internally with those guys. Again, it just feels to us like we're a bit cursed when it comes to touring and playing shows.

CoC - Jackie Smit: I'll give you a compliment as far as the Deicide show is concerned though -- we were among the few and the faithful to stick around when we heard you were still going to be playing on the evening of the London show, and my feeling is that you would have made them sound like absolute shit had they still played.

JM: <laughs> That's very kind of you to say.

CoC - JS: Paul mentioned your profile and what I was wondering was whether Akercocke being invited to do a recording for BBC Radio 1 didn't perhaps instill a sense in you that there was more of an acceptance of the band and that in a broader sense you were being regarded as more than just a typical death metal band?

JM: I've never really given that any thought whatsoever. The thought had never occurred to me. We were just really happy that we were asked to do it. The overwhelming feeling that I felt was that we'd sort of finally broken through into the hallowed realms of the BBC. It was a really nice experience, because it was exactly how I imagined it would be. You know, in that basement with a live room, fantastic acoustics and a big red light on the wall and a guy saying to us: "Right lads, when that light goes off we're rolling." It was fantastic and it was a really exciting day, but I never considered anything else about it other than that it was nice to do it.

CoC - PS: So I expect that cracking the Top 40 didn't make much of a dent in perception either?

JM: <laughs> Did we? That's pretty mad.

CoC - PS: What was curious to me about that was that often a record is judged by the success of the band's previous album, and given the response to _Words That Go Unspoken..._, it definitely says something about what _Choronzon_ did. I think that up until that album, a lot of people in the UK were very tight-lipped about you and certainly in Europe and the USA Akercocke wasn't regarded as a significant band. I think that has definitely changed now. But the question that I was going to ask about _Words That Go Unspoken..._: it feels like a very bold step, because it has diverged from the path of the previous album to quite a degree, and I was curious to know why you decided to go down that route.

JM: It felt like a logical, natural thing to do. We're so slow when it comes to writing, it tends to be very much a continuous process. So those songs -- some of them at least -- were already written when _Choronzon_ was released. Essentially even though we had that clutch of songs for _Choronzon_, we didn't stop writing, because otherwise we'd never get it together to produce enough material for another release. So really, it was just a natural, logical thing. We didn't decide to get more proggy. We meet three or four times a week and we did play a lot during that time, and changing things up a little just makes it more interesting for us. There are the diehards who would ask: "Why didn't you make another _Goat of Mendes_?"

[At this point drummer David Gray joins the party; introductions are made, hands are shaken, and Jason continues.]

JM: So, why didn't we make another _Goat of Mendes_? That would be the most boring thing for us to do.

David Gray: Have you talked about the argument about the cover for the last album yet?

JM: <laughs>

CoC - PS: I take it that was that something you locked heads over then?

DG: Well, you know you get to the point where the album is ready and everything needs to be finalised for the release, and in our case, we got to that point and we didn't have any pictures of tits and goats ready yet. <laughs>

CoC - PS: Where did the film noir concept that's formed a big part of the eventual imagery for the album come from then?

JM: Well, we're all sort of interested in all that stuff anyway.

DG: I mean, if you read any of Michael Moorecock's books growing up -- we're all really into that and all of that imagery was definitely there to be plundered.

CoC - PS: Is it that sense of grand mystery locked into dark, urban corners that was the attraction?

DG: Yeah, we played around with a lot of ideas. I had a couple that were outvoted because they were too close to what we had done on the last album.

CoC - PS: I thought it was definitely an interesting diversification, and for me it felt like there was something brave about it that at the same time was also very British, and it reminded me of something I had read in your biography where you mention hooking up with someone from Warrior Comics. There's definitely a similar feel this time round in the imagery of the album to what you'd find in Alan Moore's comics or many of the other DC and Vertigo books for that matter.

DG: Well, that was all the stuff that we were crazy for when we were kids, you know? All the weird stuff that was in Warrior and Vertigo comics -- all that stuff was like "2000 AD", which was really popular around the time, but the girls had bigger tits and there was more blood. It was just fantastic.

JM: I re-read it all recently, because Dave was kind enough to compile every volume together in a complete collection, and it's deeply sinister -- tremendously good reading.

CoC - PS: Another thing that has struck me while listening to _Words That Go Unspoken..._ is the change in your sound from when you blasted on to the scene originally. When you started, you effectively pooled together a number of bands that you were in at the time and what made up _Rape of the Bastard Nazarene_ came largely from the bands that you were listening to at the time. Then as you progressed, you've become much more than just a Satanic death metal band with its own agenda and almost a commodity that a select number of people -- it could be argued -- would want to keep to themselves, by virtue of the fact that for them you've probably kept death metal interesting. What do you think of that?

JM: Well, it's interesting you should say that, because I think that we've always been very much a band that has owned its music. We've always been about writing music that we have personally been able to find interesting and diverting. You know, it's always been about the celebration of music for us.

CoC - PS: And obviously in the light of that, it's been a somewhat self-indulgent exercise for you?

JM: Totally. It might sound arrogant, but I don't really care. I would never give any consideration to what someone was going to think about something when I wrote a riff or came up with a vocal idea. If someone likes it or gets into it, then to us that's just an added bonus. I guess we've just been fortunate that there have been some people that have enjoyed what we do so far.

CoC - PS: Watching you a couple of weeks ago when you supported Burst and Opeth here in London, there's definitely been something of a relaxation in the occult atmosphere that you used to create before a show.

JM: <laughs> Don't speak to soon. Let's see what happens tonight. The thing is though, we're ten years older now than when we started this band, and I don't know -- I like a good laugh, and I had a good laugh on the night you mentioned there. So where before I might have gotten uptight about maintaining a really dark, sinister atmosphere, now I just think: "What's the fucking point?"

DG: The thing about playing with a band that has the profile that Opeth has -- it's really hard doing something dark and sinister in that situation anyway. You get given a very limited amount of time, and as has happened to us, a couple of songs before you're supposed to be done someone comes up to you and tells you to get off the stage. There's no set dynamic in situations like that. It's just like: "That's one more song down that you're going to play."

CoC - JS: So in other words you're half way through your set and someone is waiting in the wings tapping their watch and pointing at you?

DG: <laughs> Exactly! You could try and tell them: "Look, we're teasing Choronzon through the crying glass here -- if he's taking his time, then we should be able to play a little longer." But they'd have none of that.

CoC - JS: I'd agree with Paul regarding the occult imagery though, because even as far back as the interviews you were doing for the new album, you were already making statements to the effect that Satanism was pretty much about wine, women and song for you and not much more. Did you ever expect or indeed was there any sort of backlash from some of your more ardent fans who really bought into the Satanic death metal machine that you presented yourself at in the beginning?

JM: <laughs> Well, as far as I know we're still a Satanic death metal machine. Has something changed, Dave?

DG: Well, what I find interesting is that there's definitely a division in our fans now between the older people who know the first couple of albums and who are maybe a little more traditional in their tastes and are more into stuff like Venom. Then you also have the newer kids who prefer the last two albums and who are probably more pro-active in their support of the band and are probably buying more T-shirts and things like that. So whatever it is we're doing, where we are the moment is probably caught in a sort of balancing act of what the kids think are cool and what the old farts like us think are cool.

JS: I also think it's not as much of an image thing, and just the fact that in general, you've introduced more melody and a whole range of diverse elements along the way, and in death metal that seems to be a common thread where a contingent of fans tend turn their back on almost any band after their first two albums. Take Morbid Angel for example.

JM: We're like that ourselves.

DG: When we play _Altars of Madness_ we're like aaaaaargh!

CoC - JS: So getting Matt Wilcock [guitars] into the band to replace Paul -- what made you decide that he was the man for the job?

JM: Well, he's a fucking brilliant guitarist. He's immense; a living guitar monster.

DG: He's a real musician -- not like us. He can actually play.

JM: <laughs> Definitely. He's been to school and everything.

CoC - JS: And his effect on the band so far?

JM: Well, we're drinking more lager now.

CoC - JS: Will he have any influence on the creative process with this band moving forward?

JM: I definitely hope so. There was actually a song on our last album -- "Penance" -- and he wrote pretty much the lion's share of that. That's pretty much his song and he just pitched up at practice one day and told us that he'd written it, which was something that no one has ever really done before. We listened to it and said: "That sounds bloody marvellous, but we can't actually play it!" So Matt will definitely continue to push things forward with us in the creative sense.

CoC - PS: The other thing that I have wanted to ask you about is Goat of Mendes Records, which you've been tentatively running and which is now starting to become slightly more active.

JM: Yeah, I just put out the Corpsing record, which I'm tremendously excited about.

CoC - PS: It's taken you a while to release any records though.

JM: Well, it took me a while to find any bands that I liked. I mean, I should probably get out more I suppose, but I really didn't find anything that stood out at me until Corpsing came along. Then I've also got the Indesinence record that I'm going to be putting out in the summer. I just yesterday received the master copy of their debut and I think that it's going to be something really special. That album to my mind is something that has the potential to become a real modern classic. So we're excited about that.

CoC - PS: So, if you're an artist signed to Goat of Mendes Records, do you have a greater or smaller chance of playing with Akercocke?

JM: We don't really have a lot of say in who we play with, to tell you the truth. I mean, obviously if our agent suggested we play with some hideously inappropriate pop band or something, I'd probably do it because I'm that shallow. <laughs> But we generally don't have any real sort of say. When we were younger, we thought that when you have some sort of profile you get to choose these things, but it's just not like that. Perhaps guys like Slayer have some sort of sway, but we certainly don't.

CoC - JS: Wrapping up then: what are your plans for the next twelve months? Are you going to be doing more touring, start writing another record?

JM: I shall be going to France on a wine-tasting holiday and increasing the size of my cellar to accommodate the purchases that I make. Then after that, I hope to be sunning myself in the Algarve. What about you, David?

DG: I shall be bringing forth the dawn of the crucifiers and will be frantically murdering Christians in a hail of bloodshed across Surrey.

JM: <laughs> Was that part of a package holiday?

DG: I'll be generally unpleasant to everyone I meet and maybe write a track or two of new music -- ugly music that's a stark contrast to anything that people have considered music before.

(article submitted 20/6/2006)


CHATS
8/12/2001 P Schwarz Akercocke: Satanic Art
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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