Holmfirth-based alternative grime rockers DeadWax have just released their raw, high-powered energy new single ‘Northern Behaviour’ and we spoke to band members Ben Millington (drums) and Henry Skinner (guitar) on the eve of their London debut to find out everything that you needed to know about DeadWax but were afraid to ask…
How long has DeadWax been a band?
H: We’ve been going for nearly ten years this year, is it?
B: Funny enough it is ten years this month. I think that we need to get some champagne to celebrate! But yes, it’s been exactly ten years which is pretty crazy!
Ten years is a long time, you will have no doubt seen some changes within the music business in that time. It’s frightening how much things have changed in ten years…if you are not on Tik Tok are you anybody really?!
H: I think that it has helped us that we’ve learned how the music business works in that time. It’s not like we’ve established ourselves and then there was that big change. It is hard to get into, and get established…it is really difficult.
B: I was just going to say that we say that we have been in a band for ten years but we have pushed DeadWax to make it what we are doing as our careers, full-time, for probably only half of that time. It’s not been too brutal at least, and we’ve not just realised that we are not famous on Tik Tok!
The lockdown and the few years that followed must have been tough for a fledgling band to build an audience.
B: It’s been massively tough. During the lockdown, we refused to stay silent and we did a few lockdown sessions which kept our fanbase remembering us and meant that we didn’t fall off the face of the earth. Any recording or marketing aspects were completely gone, and it was pretty tough to leave lockdown with any momentum and it felt a bit like we were starting from scratch. We still were sending music back and forth to each other…so we refused to be broken by it!
One of the most common questions that a new band like yourselves has to answer constantly would be – “Who do you sound like?”. The following quote from Tim Turan sums DeadWax up perfectly: “Top notch with an immediate hook that keeps you there from the first beat to the last. If Senser and Eminem had a bastard child…this is it!”…no-one could describe DeadWax better than that because Senser were a band that defied pigeonholing.
H: Senser were a band that had range. They would start off in one direction and just go off in a different one.
In that sense, DeadWax are like Senser then. People are coming up with so many ways to describe the band: Alt-Grime being just one. I would imagine for the band, you don’t waste time on pigeonholes and genres and just see DeadWax as a band that plays music.
H: I feel like that to be fair. It is very difficult to be original now in music, but everyone has their own thing to put across and I think that’s important to feel in your own music. It is all just bits of the different stuff that we listen to; Alt-metal and rock, and then Jake [frontman Jake Milburn] is the main guy bringing the Grime…but in all honesty, it’s just the music that we all grew up with since the mid-noughties. Our peers at least.
From a marketing point of view, it must screw with the Spotify algorithms. What playlist do they add you to?
B: You get to select a few options from a very long list of genres, and yes, you have to systemise it and I can understand that. It took us years to land on Alt-Grime and to be fair in the next few years we probably won’t be Alt-Grime anymore. Also, what is “Alt-Grime”?! One person’s “Alt-Grime” is another person’s “Nu-Metal”! So it is really tough to land on something. We don’t hear much about “Alt-Grime”. There are definitely some other bands out there doing amazing stuff and at least to a new listener it has something new about it and they can watch it develop.
Watching live footage of DeadWax online, it would seem that anything goes! What was your first gig together like?
B: The very first gig that we did ten years ago was very different from our first ever proper show where we were able to filter in some of our own music. There were probably about six years in between! [laughs] Every band starts somewhere and I think that we started on the back of a truck at a village fayre somewhere.
H: Our first proper show would have been at The Parish in Huddersfield. But I think that from the first time we all played onstage together, we knew that was it, the deal was sealed. I don’t know about anyone else, but I didn’t feel nervous at all, I was just excited to go do it. The energy that we put across was never discussed – we didn’t decide that we needed to go nuts onstage, it’s just a thing that subconsciously happens anyway. We can’t not go nuts.
Alyx Holcombe has been incredibly supportive of DeadWax on her BBC Radio 1 Rock Show, it must be a major boost when something like that happens.
H: It definitely does help, yes. Her name carries weight. If you send your track in and they play it, it’s almost like a seal of approval. It helps with the mindset of the band as well to be honest, because when something like that happens it affirms to yourself what you are doing and to the group, in general, it makes you tighter as a unit.
B: Just to echo that, it’s extremely validating, and of course, Alyx Holcombe is such a fantastic figure for the industry as well, so it’s like a pat on the back.
The new single is of course ‘Northern Behaviour’, how long did you have this one brewing before you recorded it? Or did it come together quite quickly?
H: That one came together during the lockdown. It’s about Jake and Sol [Solomon Price, bass] working on a building site together. The guy that was running the site was putting as little money as he could in but took as much as he could out. It was a huge place that had been abandoned for ages and their job was to shift all the foundations out but because of how old the building was they couldn’t get any power tools in to bring it down. So they were shoveling these foundations for ages, shifting everything by hand. They did that for two years then the lockdown hit. Sol put that tune together in lockdown and sent it over. I think that Jake had been sitting on the idea for these lyrics since he and Sol started working on that site as neither of them were massive fans of the work! The verses had been in his head for a while. It came together quickly once we could meet up again to play. And as soon as it was done, it was straight into the live set. And when we presented our songs to our producer Mike Krompass that was one of the first ones that he picked.
The cover artwork for the single is quite simplistic, but it is very striking. Who created it?
H: It’s a great photo that one. Jake’s girlfriend took that photo. She is our go-to gig photographer and is great at what she does. It was taken at a venue in Leeds called Boom and right round the wall at the back of the stage are all these spay-painted skeletons and it looks amazing.
You mentioned Mike Krompass, he is a multi-Platinum music producer, songwriter, mixer, engineer, multi-instrumentalist and programmer – it must be quite rewarding having someone like him on your side. A confidence boost.
B: It’s similar to what you said about Alyx Holcombe, having industry folk on your team, and backing and rating your output, is really cool. We have been working closely with Mike at BASE Culture UK which is a label and recording studio that he has set up in Yorkshire. It’s very exciting and having Mike like our music is very cool! It’s a privilege to work with him.
Where does the connection with Mike come from?
H: It was before he had decided on the site for BASE Culture UK and he had come to Holmfirth where we are all from and he was looking around the old technical college building. Sol’s dad runs a community choir and he was just setting up there the same day that Mike came around, and he could hear this guy walking around talking in an American accent about music…and he was like “You don’t get a lot of Americans in Holmfirth, at all!”. He started talking to Mike who then gave him his details as he was looking for musicians to be working with, and then it was a case of “come to the studio and we’ll talk”. But as you said, it is a confidence boost. It’s an affirmation of what you are doing when somebody of that sort of experience and caliber is like [in an American accent] “I dig the band, man”!
Which band do you feel that DeadWax would be best suited to open for in terms of a similar audience?
H: That’s a tough one! I would say Hacktivist. Or BLACKGOLD.
B: Wargasm as well. There are some truly amazing acts not too far out of our genre scope. Nova Twins are wicked.
April 22nd, DeadWax make their London debut…
H: Some of these dates are the furthest south that we have ever played. It’s the first steps out of our home territory.
What can the Southerners expect from DeadWax’s Northern Behaviour live onstage?
H: The full experience. There is a line where Jake says: “No, I’m not sorry if I’m stepping on your shoes”…and we won’t be! It’s going to go off!
All current DeadWax live shows can be found here.
Interview – Dave