Down Among The Dead Men: Dave Ingram Interviews... Dave Ingram?
Let's cut the crap; Down Among the Dead Men's self-titled album is an absolute masterpiece. There, I said it. Again. It's a glowing example of what death metal is supposed to sound like - short and punchy tracks, minimal displays of technical arrogance, lashings of punk influence, and of course a lineup featuring Rogga Johansson and... Dave Ingram. No relation. David and I have been friends for a few years at this point and I'm a big fan of his radio shows and previous musicial endeavours, so I was ecstatic when I received an email from Down Among the Dead Men's PR agent requesting an interview. Surprisingly, it wasn't as chaotic as I'd anticipated and we managed to cover quite a lot, although due to some looming deadlines I sadly had to omit a few questions about his vocal practices and his radio shows. Alas, here's an abridged transcription of our conversation, as well as the audio of the full interview and some tracks from his new album. Links for David's radios shows can be found at the end of the article.
So how did DATDM come around, did Rogga get in touch with you first?
He wrote me on Facebook and said he was making a project - more of a personal thing
for himself - and said he was writing while getting guest musicians in from everywhere just to do one part. In fact the song that I'm on, Dan Swano is playing a lead guitar solo on there... right over my vocals, you bastard! But I'll forgive him for that, he didn't know. Rogga sent the lyrics through and I just reconstructed them to fit how I'd sing them, but while I was doing that I was thinking about making a full-blown project with Rogga myself - I'd had this idea of death metal meets Discharge, which I've had for a very long time. Almost as long as I've been doing Metal Breakfast Radio, in fact previous to that myself and my friend Donovan had done similar and I thought I'd ask Rogga as I'd heard his other bands before. I thought "this could really work out well" and with just a few emails backwards and forwards, Down Among The Dead Men was born.
It seems like it came together quite quickly, it was only announced at the start of the year.
Yeah, that was the initial announcement. It was nine months from the moment we first contacted each other to the moment I had the fully mixed and finished product on my laptop.
That's still very quick!
It is, I was amazed. I'm going to blow my own trumpet here, but the response has been phenominal and I think that this goes to prove that anyone who has more than a couple of brain cells to rub together can do this sort of thing. Older bands ought to stop living on past glories and younger bands really need to pull their finger out and think about what they're doing, because they're able to write some really good stuff. I say this from experience obviously due to Metal Breakfast Radio - which I use as a bit of a basis, as I've done that for five and a half years now - but what I've see over that tim is how bands can be absolutely bloody horrible because they don't think about what they're writing, but then there're a few bands who really get it and they really impress me. If you give it a bit of thought, you can put out a good release. And me and Rogga, if I'm honest, didn't give it a lot of thought. We just made a killer album.
Rogga's been in pretty much every band ever and you fronted Benediction and Bolt Thrower, so the foundations for a good album were already there. But you get a lot of these so-called 'supergroups' that get hyped up and then turn out to be rather shit and you've avoided this, what do you think you did differently?
I think it's probably because with these death metal 'supergroups' - I hate that term if I'm quite honest, especially amongst the death metal scene - they started out underground, expanded, and they've become a little more mainstream which is the element that spoils it I think. I think for myself, Rogga and Dennis, we've never lost that underground feel. I strongly believe that we've not lost that element, I think that those people who do those big groups have - they don't keep it alive. It's like a little black flame you have inside of you, and they seem to extinguish it when they move on.
In your previous bands, did you write the lyrics yourself?
In Downlord, I wrote 90% and Donovan wrote a bunch as well, they were songs he'd had that we adapted to the band. Same for Bolt Thrower, it was myself, Gav and Jo - we'd all sit down and write the lyrics together. I'd bring lyrics in and we'd just adapt them for the band. That was my first and only album with Bolt Thrower, but I asked them to give me some more guidance on that. I didn't want to just come in and take over the lyrics, I wanted them to be comfortable with them as well. I was very open about that. As for Benediction, the first year I was in the band we were writing new stuff. The drummer at the time wrote one song, but he'd actually just reconstructed lyrics from an older one. But the rest of it was all me and I got free reign there. I also had free reign in DATDM - I even asked Rogga if he'd like to write some lyrics and then I could adapt them to how I sing them, but he was more than happy to just let me get on with it. Rogga would write music and send me rough tracks, then I'd sit in a chair at the studio with a microphone after I'd written the lyrics, grumble the lyrics then send them to him and say "here's where the lyrics will go, do what you want with them" and most of them were pretty much left as-is. A couple of people have said that the songs just... end. There's no proper ending, there's just an open chord or the drums stop and we're like "yup, that's what we wanted".
It's a very abrupt album in places and very short, it's only about half an hour long.
Yep, that's something I learned from Bolt Thrower - always leave them wanting more!
Well that's something you and I have in common; a bit of a dislike for long songs. I continuously state that if you're going to have a song over a certain length then you need to be ble to justify it with it's content, which isn't a problem for DATDM because I think that the longest track on the album is maybe three and a half minutes long. The songs are very short, was that something Rogga had already decided upon or did you have an input on that?
I said that the average length of the songs should be three and a half minutes or shorter and Rogga just said "alright, we'll take it from there" and that's just what they did. There's no major decisions being made, there're no huge discussions, it was basically "let's see how we do this; let's do it and see how it turns out." Everything was thrown into the pot, stirred up, the cauldron bubbled and then out came the album. It came out perfectly. There wasn't a huge master plan for it.
It's impressive really, because a lot of death metal bands these days seem to be so determined to write albums that are full of very long tracks. You get albums that are full of songs that are six and a half minutes or even eight and a half minutes and they just don't go anywhere - if you're going to write something that long, you can't repeat the same riff for most of it. It's not justification of what you're doing. With DATDM however, you've got these riffs for half a minute and before you know it, next song - it keeps you on your toes. And it has that very punkish undertone to it in the vein of Doom, Discharge and Amebix, do you think more death metal bands should embrace that influence again?
They already did when death metal began. It'll come around again - go back from stuff like the first Hellhammer demo, then you look at how it's progressed over the years and it's gotten way more technical, then up come bands like Opeth and this new wave of death metal that's really big now. And they're not death metal at all, they're completely fucking rubbish. But you've got those sort of bands, then I think it'll come as a revolution, it'll come around again and go back to being more basic.
Sometimes less is more, isn't it?
That's exactly it. It's going to get so advanced and so far up it's own arse that it's going to have to say "we can't keep doing this anymore, we've got 75 riffs in the first 30 seconds - let's do something a little more basic."
And basic seems to be DATDM at it's core - if I'm not mistaken, there isn't even a great deal of solos on the album.
No, one thing I said to Rogga was to keep the solos to a minimum. There are three songs on the album that I wrote the music for as well as the lyrics - one of them, 'As Leeches Gorge', I originally wrote in 1988. The band I was in at the time was called Plague H.D.C - the H.D.C stood for "Hippie Doom Core" - and I wrote the song, and I called it 'Child of Sin' and I took the lyrics with me and went to Benediction and they used them. The music I kept as I really liked the song, it was recorded as a song by the band Eyegouger from Chiacgo when I was with them on their demo, but once I'd recorded it they never used it again as it wasn't their style. So I thought "okay, they didn't bother with it so I'll take that and use it again" but we did change the construction of it slightly for DATDM. But it's a really old song and I told Rogga "NO solo in that - there isn't one!" though I can't remember if he did or not. There are a few numbers on the album with no solos, there're a few numbers that have got them but I wasn't expecting them so when I first heard them I was thinking "Hmmm I was going to start singing there" but it worked out rather well.
So the album's out on November 22nd through Cyclone Empire Records - that's the day before the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary...
That's right, I did that on purpose! I got the label to try and release it around the same time!
There's been a little bit of an exciting connection if I remember correctly.
The guy who write the music for Doctor Who, Murray Gold, he and I are in contact online - very rarely as he's very busy - but during the Doctor Who proms in London earlier this year he invited me out for a drink afterwards with a bunch of friends and we had... more than a few cocktails shall we say. He heard a couple of tracks from the album, and it's obviously not his sort of music but he just said to me "Wow, that is just a wall of energy" and I thought that was really cool.
That's a quite an accolade, especially considering how much of a fan you are - and you are quite a big Doctor Who fan! I think everybody who follows your radio shows or you online activity is well aware of that, so that must've really been something for you.
Yeah, also I don't know if you know but the band name and a majority of the song titles all have a tenuous connection to Doctor Who. There's a character in some of the audio adventures - nothing to do with the television series itself - called Professor Bernice Summerfield. She's an archeologist who wrote a booked called "Down Among the Dead Men" and I borrowed that for the band name, and a lot of the song titles are actually titles from her stories in the audio adventures. The lyrics actually have little or nothing to do with the actual stories themselves, they're just very sly reference, very tenuous. Just as a homage, shall we say. And there's also another link, because back in the early eighties I worked as an archeological assistant and I was in a place in England called Rocester - I was stationed there with the archeological deparment of Birmingham University. We'd travel down to Rocester and I would dig up Roman remains, so I was literally in a trench and I was down among the dead men and the book in those fictitious stories come from, actually being amongst dead people and digging them up. So there is another link there as well, and I've always been interested in archeology because you can look at the past and hold it in your hands. And there it is - I've held a Roman soldier's skull, or what was left of it.
On the subject of themes, what are the lyrical themes on the album? Is there a concept of any sort?
Not particularly. Concept albums are good if they're done well and I don't think I could do one well, and if I did then it would have taken a lot longer than nine months because I would have put everything into doing that. As much as I would love to do something like that, I just don't have the time to get that done because I have a full time job for the Danish Cancer Research Foundation, I've got a family, I've got my two radio shows and I'm doing this with Down Among the Dead Men so I don't really have time for anything else. I would have to sacrifice one of my radio shows, and I'm just not prepared to do that.
Well, how about the lyrical themes in general?
I can tell you now that the newer lyrics are a little bit darker, most of them are very fictitious. 'Draconian Rage' is about a very proud empire - again, it's fictitious - a race of people who are very proud and have reached the peak of their achievement, but they're also very opulent and they let their opulence destroy them. That's why the first line of that song is "Lecherous drunks and drunken lechers/let's start a nuclear war." Let me explain it like this; I'm a big fan of Queens of the Stone Age, and I find a lot of their lyrics to be inconsequential. They flow, but they don't seem to go anywhere and they don't seem to have come from anywhere and I sort of took that idea for DATDM but I did want to keep a certain focus on the lyrics and I wanted to keep everything within some sort of boundary per song. I didn't just want it to be about any old shit, it has to have some sort of focus to it. 'Bones of Contention' and 'A Hanful of Dust' both have so many of archeological references and 'The Epoch' is another tenuous reference to a certain television show that I do like quite a lot, but it's about rewriting your own history. How history is written in a certain weight, written in stone, and we see that within archeology. You can dig up the information right there at your feet, and it happens a lot here in Copenhagen - they'll dig the roads, they'll find some sort of viking remains and they have to stop digging so that the university can come in and remove it all so that they can go and fix the water mains or something like that. It happens almost on a daily basis over here because there's just so much history beneath our feet. But 'The Epoch' - again, it's fictitious - is about a race of people who can rewrite history and change things so that people can be removed from history or... they may have been famous or may have been a dictator, but suddenly they're just the guy who stands on the street corner selling newspapers. That's the sort of thing that goes on in the lyrics. It doesn't actually state that in the song, that's why I make it a little hazy and vague, but that's what they're about. And basically, I want listeners to make up their own minds. Use your brain; you've got one, use it.
One thing I really enjoyed was that you had your son doing some vocals on the title track - that's wonderful, how did that come around?
I asked him. I was thniking about it at home and I'd written the lyrics for it, and I could see these lines which were just the words "hear me" and "fear me" so I asked if he'd want to come into the studio and do that. There was a bit of trepidation as he's never done that sort of thing before so I thought we'd make a day of it... well, an afternoon of it. It didn't take that long because he was so good. I bought a load of chocolate milk, which is my preferred drink of choice when I'm doing vocals, and we just had a great time getting it done. There was no stress, no pressure, and I think he did each one in two takes; he did one and then said "No, I'll do another one just to make it better" which was really cool, he's never done it before and he knew what to do. He's really into the fact that I've been doing bands before - he's got the Bolt Thrower album on his phone!
What's your schedule for shows?
Rogga and Dennis are also in other bands so they've got a few things that they'd like to finish off, I suggested that we wait and see how the album is received. And so far it's been extremely phenominally great, so we said that we'd wait until the spring at least, maybe kick off with a few shows around Scandinavia, Sweden, Denmark, maybe a little trip down to northern Germany, maybe Hamburg or something but we'll see. That'll be in the springtime. We're also thinking of putting out a 7" EP around that time with three or maybe even four tracks - we'd actually like to release several 7" EPs, at least two or three a year, and one full album a year. Because the 7" releases would be limited edition, so we'd also want to make those songs available for download.
Essentially, you want to make those 7" tracks available on Bandcamp or something for those of us who don't have a record player.
Exactly. Because there are those people, and I'm one of them, who prefer to have digital versions. I've got enough stuff, I'm actually getting rid of my CDs slowly, I'm beginning to burn them to my computer and then sell them on. But if we get offered the right tour under the right circumstances with the right band *cough*BOLT THROWER*cough* then we'd definitely go for it, but it has to be worth it because we've all got families, we've all got full time jobs. I know it sounds trite and horrible that we have to consider the real world first, but with this sort of music you don't make any money. Unless you're doing it right - I know a certain way of doing it right, but I'm not going to tell anybody because it's a secret! You CAN make a living from this but you have to throw yourself in full time. It's not about the money, but you do have outgoings and you have to cover yourself. Especially when you've got a family.
On a related note, if you were to tour the UK for example, I'm hazarding a guess that you'd like to tour with Bolt Thrower but are there any other bands you'd like to share the stage with?
Hypocrisy, there's one. Not because of the music but because of the people, I don't care what sort of music they play - I just don't want people to be assholes and Hypocrisy aren't assholes, they're really nice. Peter was awesome.
Again, the album is out on November 22nd via Cyclone Empire Records. Is there going to be a special limited deluxe fourpanel edition or some sort or is it just the standard CD release?
Why do bands do that? It is absolutely beyond me why they do all that stupid rubbish. In fact I know why they do it; it's money, that's why. No, it's just going to be the album and that's it - if it was down to me and I could have a choice, it'd just be a digital thing where you could download the artwork and the sleeve and you could print it out yourself if you wanted it.
So if it was up to you, you wouldn't even put it out on CD?
No, I'd just do the digital stuff. You don't have to have a record label - that's only if you wanted to put it out on CD etc. This day and age you don't need it, you've got iTunes, CD Baby, it's all online and you can do it yourself. You can get the album mastered yourself, you can record it yourself, you can release it yourself, and then all of the money that you earn goes to the band. None to the label. Not that I'm saying that Cyclone Empire Records are bad, because they're not - they are really good and I'm so happy to be signed to them, and I do like the fact that we're releasing a CD - but if I could have it my way, it would just be digital. but that's just my personal preference.
The full interview can be heard here:
Metal Breakfast Radio: http://www.metalbreakfastradio.com
Lambert's Basement: http://www.radiofreesatan.com/blog/category/lambertsbasement