How Do You Like Them Now? The Heavy Return.
Photo: Will Cooper-Mitchell
"What the Devil wants, believe the Devil's going to get. He's going to stretch her out, like the tape in a cassette," Swaby croons menacingly on The Heavy's latest single "Sixteen." A lyric that is both incredibly dirty and radio appropriate. You've got to appreciate that. Big, bad, jungle blues is coming your way from across the pond, people. Prepare, yourselves. The kind that slowly crawls down your spine into your hips and makes you feel evil. You know, the good kind.
It's been too damn long since good old fashioned sinister blues has been in vogue and on the radio. Hopefully with the attention bands like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, and The Heavy are getting that's all going to change. And we're in luck, the psychedelic-funk, fuzzed-out, freak-rock voodoo merchants, The Heavy be playing the Echo tomorrow night in support of their sophomore album, The House That Dirt Built which was released only last week. We caught up with their charismatic lead singer last night to talk about their latest release. Here is some of what was said.The Heavy - How Do You Like Me Now?
When did you start singing?
I've been singing all of my life, but I never thought of myself as a singer.
I just don't think I'm a great singer. I just sing what it needs. I give the tracks what they need, you know? I used have a band before this one with Dan, our guitarist now, and we would chop up beats and soul samples and slow rock samples. It was real trip hoppy, but not exactly trip hop. Anyway we would get girls to come in and sing for us. I would sing the guy vocals sometimes and one day Dan was like, "You should be singing. It sounds good if you sing it." And that was kind of it. Sometimes it's easier to do it yourself when you know that you need the inflections on certain words.
So how did you start The Heavy?
(laughs) It was real difficult. Me and Dan sat around smoking weed one day and got very high. We had an acoustic guitar and a sampler. So we sat around and chopped up some soul beats on the sampler and played some melodies on the guitar. Just making up songs, you know? And we were so stoned that we thought, "Hey, we could do this! This could be really cool." So we started playing at an open mic night. It was just us and two microphones with the sampler and a guitar. It was completely different from anything else being played in there.This was our own sound. Man, that was eight or nine years ago. We just used to do three or four shows a year, but they began to get huge. They became really, really popular, so we decided that we needed to get a drummer and a bass player.
Did you go through a lot of bass players and drummer before ending up with the ones you have now?
Yeah, we needed guys who understood what we were doing. The best players are the guys who know exactly what to play. You don't have to tell them anything. They just know. We went through quite a lot of drummers though. Dan and I have a pet hate for drummers.
Photo courtesy of The Heavy's MySpace page.
Because sometimes drummers are all like, "I've got some drums and I want everyone to know that I'm hitting them." I mean, you're a drummer, man. Keep time. That's what you do. It's not about showboating. The guy we have now though, Chris, is perfect. He's an amazing drummer. He can play so many different styles and rhythms. He always plays just what the song needs. We went through so many drummers before him, though. Dan and I would spend all rehearsal looking at each other like, "Okay, is this guy just like drum soloing through the whole song?"
I imagine you guys got really good at dumping drummers.
Yeah we kinda had to. We even had a little speech. (laughs) "It's not your snare, it's us. It's not the way you hit the toms, it's us." But seriously, Chris is the most perfect drummer. He's so dope. Do you and Dan still write all the songs or is it more of a democracy now?
I think it's more of a democracy. Especially on this latest album. I mean, Dan and I wrote a lot of it, but there are some songs like "What You Want Me To Do?" that are completely 25%. A lot of the songs on this album were tracks that were floating around on the first album that needed refinement. They were just like demos back then but we knew they were great. But yeah the songwriting is usually myself and Dan initially. But now the rest of the band gets in and makes subtle changes, contributions. Dan and I are purveyors of the sound. We know where the science is. I mean, the other guys know as well, but we're quality control.
Where did you get the name The Heavy?
We're great, great fans of the disaster and horror movies from the seventies. We just loved the term "The Heavy." It's like The Broodor The Maniac or The Fog or The Shining. It's very blunt and to the point. It also sounds like something's coming to get you. Like "Don't walk home alone, The Heavy's out there." Or "Don't try and lift that, it's The Heavy."
What are you most proud of on this album?
I love "Sixteen." It's amazing. To take the idea of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell On You" and give it a new life is great. I also love "Short Change Hero/" We wrote a pure spaghetti western song. I just remember hearing the guitar line for the first time and thought, "Yeah, we have to go full spaghetti western with this." I love that song. You feel as if something bad is coming into town when you hear it.
What sort of day were you having when you wrote "How Do You Like Me Now?"
I was in Spain at the time, which is where my kids live. I was just chopping up this horn break and adding some drums and thought, "That sounds big." So played it to Dan and he thought it was very reminiscent of a James Brown beat. So we wrestled with the lyrics for a long time, but eventually it became a song about these guys who have amazing girlfriends, but still have their vices. It's just a song that laughs about how people conceal their vices. And when they're discovered it's like, "How Do You Like Me Now?" A lot of what we do is tongue and cheek.
What inspired "Sixteen"? Is it about a girl you knew?
Not a particular one, that song is just about all the young girls I've seen in clubs. You know, you go in and you think, "They look really young. Like, really really young. Like they shouldn't be in here." And then you see all of these creepy guys buying them drinks and you know exactly what they have in mind. That song is all about girls who try and grow up too quickly.
How did you get involved with Counter Records?
We had kind of outgrown open mic night. We had a band by that point, and we were blowing up nights all over the place. We just had this ridiculous sound that people hadn't heard before, and Ninja Tune invited us down to London to play a gig. We thought it was just another gig, so played and got four hundred people going absolutely crazy. At the end of the night Peter, who's the head of Ninja Tune and Counter Records, came up to us and told us that we were phenomenal and did we have a demo? It was weird because we had just finished our first album, like the week before. So we gave him a copy and I went to Spain for a week. When I got back Peter had gone crazy over this record. He kept phoning me and Dan and asking us to sign. So eventually we went in and discussed the terms.We were really worried that they'd want to change things, but they didn't want to change anything, which is the ideology running through that the label. Which was great. For this second album, no one came in the studio from the label at all. We were really left to our own devices, which was amazing. Peter literally came out and listened to the record for the first time, the day we finished. And he was like "My God every one of these songs could be the single." So we thought, oh good. There are so many record labels out there who send in they're A&R people to mess up the process. They don't have any idea what they're doing. It's like "Oh, you don't think we should have a chorus? Really? Really?"
What was the worst show you ever played?
We were in Paris and we had to take an eight hour train across France. For some reason we couldn't fly to this place. We were supposed to play this festival for this mad woman, who I think had a crush on Spencer. She was this mental woman who spent a lot of money to have us over. So we get there and everyone is super rude. We asked if we could get something to eat and they gave us this really horrible shit, which I think they found at the back of the fridge. Everyone else is sitting around eating steak, and they gave us this horrible stuff. And then they had us play first, which is fine, but we played to three people. And it was like "Why did you pay us a load of money to play to three people in a field?" It was an appalling, appalling festival.
What is the weirdest thing you've ever seen in the audience?
There was this dude dancing in front of me a couple of weeks ago in Paris. I was torn whether or not to call the paramedics or something. I really don't know what he was doing. He was just going crazy, but it was like I couldn't find the rhythm in it. And what's worse is that people in the front started following him, and I almost said, "Okay, don't follow him. Don't look at him. You're going to fuck everything up." I should have just put a hand on his shoulder and calm him down. You know to ease him in a little bit. Stroke him a little. Maybe put him by the kick drum and say, "Follow this. You're going to be all right."
Wow, I can't imagine someone dancing so badly that the lead singer gets put off.
Yeah, it wasn't good.
Well thank you so much for speaking with us.