Sat in The Lescar with their song ‘Shotgun Woman’ in my head, I quickly condense the million and one questions that I have for Dead Sons. I’ve heard rumours about them being involved in Reverend and the Makers and supporting the Arctic Monkeys. Their records also sound excitingly ballsy and reviews of them are all favourable. I just wanted to know more.
After a few minutes of pondering, Tom, Ryan and Bernie walk over to the bar, apologise for the absence of Joe and Luke, buy a drink and from here the fun begins. Within two minutes of conversation, it’s clear that they have been musicians for a long time. Tom Rowley (singer) and Joe Green (drummer) were part of ‘Milburn’, who signed to Mercury Records for a few years before splitting in 2008. Tom then went on to play for Reverend and the Makers for six months in 2009. Tom and Joe then joined with their old friend Ryan Sellers (bassist) to form The Backhanded Compliments, until they met Luke Baker and Mathew Byrne (a.k.a. Bernie) and created Dead Sons. Now that context is dealt with, let’s talk about that band.
So what’s different this time with Dead Sons? Ryan says: “Everyone’s on the same page this time.” Indeed, it’s clear that they are musically different to anything they’ve been involved in in the past.
We make more of an impact by ripping someone’s face off with the bass turned up to full than sitting with an acoustic thinking of someone you’re in love with
For a start, they are a multi-instrumental quintet. Tom, Bernie and Luke all play the guitar, Tom and Luke both play the piano/organ and Ryan, Bernie and Joe all mess around with different types of percussions, such as marimbas and glockenspiels. Right now they’re trying to figure out the best way to get all of those instruments on and off stage quickly and efficiently. I wish them the best of luck with that.
Their music has a tendency to be pretty dark, with the psychedelic sounds from an organ, mixed with dirty bass riffs. It is clear that they are influenced by the likes of Tom Waits, The Kills and Leonard Coen with their shared consensus that living on the edge and testing how far that edge goes is the best way to be.
“We probably only argue about being ridiculous.” Ryan reminisces, as I ask him about what the inspiration was behind their recent video ‘Bangonfullturn’. The video, recorded by Mark Bull from ‘Zero Below Films’, shows the quintet dressed in smart attire having a feast in a garden – whilst being watched over by a pig with a shotgun.
Theatrically themed and dramatically played, Dead Sons spent the entirety of the video barbarically eating food and throwing it at each other. “That was just one of those suggestions when I thought: why don’t we have a massive feast?” Bernie explained. “We were going to do it as a banquet, like in a massive hall but it just seemed better to do it in a garden… It were fun but it were absolutely freezing because it were filmed in January.”
Their previous music video was for ‘Shotgun Woman’. In this they choreographed a dance, which they performed as red silhouettes shadowed by red light on a black background. “When we listen to this song this is how we like to dance”: Bernie replies, after I ask them whether or not the video was to direct the moves of their fans. “We have had a few fans doing the dance though … There’s been a couple of gigs when you get to the middle eight and people start jumping.”
‘Room 54’ will be their next single to be released in June through Dead Young Records, an independent label from Leeds. They will be working with ‘Zero Below Films’ again: “It’s gonna be better than the last one I reckon.” Bernie let me quote him on that.
Their single is going to be sold on Vinyl and online. When the question of whether an album will be released any time soon was asked, they diplomatically replied: “We’re always working on it aren’t we – we’re always thinking about what we’re going to put on it in the back of our head but the physical ‘doing it’, we’re not really.”
The conversation has swiftly moved to their EP ‘Boom Booom’ that they released in October. In terms of the title, the third ‘O’ is not a typo. It was from a lyric written by Tom and it was Ryan’s idea to add the extra ‘O’. “A lot of the ideas we have we just say: ‘Should we do this?’ and they say ‘Yeah’”, Ryan explains. “The sillier the idea, the more we like it.”
Tom takes the lead in this discussion: “Luke joined for those four songs which I think has been a major addition.” Luke is at his mum’s birthday party so he couldn’t make the interview. After discussing the greatness of Luke and what I was missing out on, we returned to the EP with Bernie’s contribution: “We found ourselves thinking: ‘How daft can you make it? How far can you go?’”
“We’ve got a new song and when we first played it we were like: ‘Can we get away with that?’” Tom took back the hypothetical talking stick and continued with: “Sometime’s it’ll be a riff, sometime’s it’ll be words – there’s no formula to our songwriting really.” After this, Ryan quickly adds: “But we do like a good riff”. Tom, as agreed by Ryan, Bernie and Tom himself, is the main songwriter in the group.
They’ve been quoted in other interviews saying that they don’t want to ever play in circuit venues in Sheffield. Bernie explained: “If you put people out of their comfort zone, they’re going to have to sit up and pay attention”. They’ve kept to this pretty well, playing in Sheffield’s Montgomery Theatre last year.
They also packed out the Bang Bang Vintage Store during the Tramlines festival last summer. “We helped to move all the stuff out and we put a gig on… we put a full sound system in a tiny shop and rammed it. It went mental.”
“We put on a gig down where we practice.” Tom goes on to tell me about their practice space at ‘Crystal Ships’, based in an old factory. Last year they put on a gig with three local bands: Velotones, The Violet May and Cult Image. There was then a club night afterwards. “We don’t know the capacity at the end but it were really good.” Ryan reminisces.
Dead Sons’ archive includes slower songs such as ‘Better than being alone.’ Although they always include epic, guitar-wrecking breakdowns, the song remains at a slow tempo with cathartic lyrics. However, they don’t play it live as Ryan explains: “Stuff like that doesn’t really work live, I’d rather just smash it.”
Bernie elaborates: “We make more of an impact by ripping someone’s face off with the bass turned up to full than sitting with an acoustic thinking of someone you’re in love with.”
Taking over once again, Ryan says: “I’m looking forward to playing the new songs live… but I do like playing ‘Bangonfullturn’ and I quite like ‘Shotgun Woman’.” “And ‘Berlin’” Bernie adds.
It’s come to that point in the conversation to discuss the Arctic Monkeys. Dead Sons supported them last year at Don Valley along with Miles Kane and The Vaccines. There’s been a lot of speculation that the Dead Sons are similar to the Arctic Monkeys, and considering that the Dead Sons emphasise that they are influenced by the likes of Tom Waits, I wander how they feel about this speculation…
Bernie replies: “We’re always getting compared to Monkeys but what people don’t realize is that we’re a Sheffield band and we’ve got Sheffield accents… I’m not knocking the Monkeys, they’re a good band and good mates but we do our own thing.” Fair enough.
Leaving that subject well alone, we start to talk about new music. “There’s not a good modern bands that we listen to, which is a bit shit really.” Ryan reveals and elaborates: “There’s not many bands who do heavy music well I think. There’s not bands who do heavy music and have any good melodies and that. The Kills. new album is good and I like The Growlers and The Dead Weather.”
Bernie avoids the subject as I become more intrigued: “I don’t want to go into it, that’s just a bag of worms – there’s just nothing for me really.” So, what are they going to do to change it? Ryan answers:“Theres nowt we can do. As long as we’re making music that we enjoy, that’s the main thing.”
At the end of the interview, we sit back, relax and have a few drinks. There’s just one thought stuck in my head. When I asked Dead Sons the cliché question of where they would like to go with Dead Sons, Tom replied: “It would be nice to just be able to do it and not worry about money and stuff.” If Dead Sons don’t get there, I worry about who will.
Dead Sons play live next on Saturday 19th May at The Leadmill, Sheffield as part of the Tramlines People’s Choice Awards