Interview: Max Newsome – Sky Valley Mistress

A few years back, Desert rockers Sky Valley Mistress swapped Lancashire for California when they recorded their debut album; ‘Faithless Rituals’ at the legendary Rancho de la Luna studio, with Eagles of Death Metal and Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Dave Catching at the helm. Now, the waiting is almost over and the album is finally due to land on your doorsteps very soon. Drummer Max Newsome talks us through the recording process, why the band have waited until now to release the album, as well as tales of Dave Catching bunking off to catch Macca in intimate surroundings, and Arctic Monkeys turning up for a barbecue.

Sky Valley MistressAfter such a long wait, how are you feeling now about the album release? You must be buzzing!

Oh yeah, completely, its weird as it still feels a little bit surreal because people don’t have it in their hands yet but we’ve done all the work, so we’re just sitting there waiting patiently…like – buy my record and you’ll get it…in a few months! Although the work has been done for a little while, it is a bit strange because now you pass on the responsibility to the label and they do all their work.

So it’s not quite hitting yet, but I’ve been really surprised how much our fans have already got into it. We’ve teased them for months with the cover art, and then announced that there will be a board game with it. People coming to see us over the last few years, we’ve not been able to tell them anything, and now that we’ve shown them, they’ve all got invested in it. I’m really excited because once it does drop and people hear the whole thing, they are going to be amazed!

It must mean a lot that pre-orders have gone so well and some versions sold out? I think the splatter vinyl has sold out?

Yeah, what we wanted to do with the vinyl release was, I don’t know if you ever saw the Jack White vinyl that he called the Ultra LP?

I know the one yes..

You can play it backwards, forwards, his theory was that he wanted to give the deluxe package to everyone, and we really wanted to take that idea on, which is a bit bold with your debut album, so that’s why you get the board game. We wanted it on colour vinyl and also on the end of the first side, there’s a locked groove at the end which we’ve not really mentioned that much, so a lot of people are going to think that it’s a hook..but it’s an intentional thing. When the label New Heavy Sounds got in touch with us and said that they wanted to take us on, we were like…are you sure?! Because we have some big plans! And they loved it, they were into every single idea and concept that we had, and somehow they’ve managed to make it work financially, they’ve made it happen and that’s what I’m really excited about.

The board game looks fantastic, you’ve been leaking pictures of the tarot cards on your social media pages, what was the thinking behind the actual game itself?

So basically we recorded the album a few years ago, it was finished, but the main reason that we held off putting the record out was as a small band, we wanted to make sure that the album got the right kick behind it. We’re not bothered about becoming the biggest band in the world, we just want people to hear it, we’re really proud of it, so that’s why we held it back.

But as it got longer and months turned into years, we all sat round and thought that we had to do something special. There’s an eleven minute song on the album called ‘Blue Desert’, we joke that it’s called ‘Stairway Version 2’ as it’s a pretty big tune, so we had these cool lyrics with imagery like the black cat, the witch, the gun, the gold, and we just thought..has anyone done a board game? Honestly, we all love it now but trying to invent your own board game is pretty insane, it got silly because we are that kind of band where if we get an idea then we will start running with it. It even got to a stage where all the rules had to rhyme! Everything went one step too far! It is pretty weird when you are in a rock band and you tell people that you are having to go to people’s houses to get them to try it out while we stand over them and write notes! I want to say that it’s fun to play, but I don’t know man, when you’ve been testing it for a few months you start to lose the will to live!

People are buying records, and they’re not actually playing them, I understand that because people buy them as they are pieces of art…

Guilty as charged..

Yeah I’ve done it with a few records, stream it first, check out a few tracks then buy it, but there are a few where I’ve bought purely on the artwork. So we wanted to give people a reason, and a motive to immerse themselves in the album. Our way of thinking was if you have the board game and the album connected, then that would be more of an experience.

Like it was before we all got distracted with technology?

Yeah, one big thing for me personally was I’ve got a record player and I had my little brother there, he streams music and I showed him my record player and he thought it was pretty cool. I said check this out, and I turned the speakers off and said to him to put his ear near the record as it was spinning around, and he couldn’t understand how a needle that was going around plastic could make a sound, it completely blew his mind!

I understand that we’re not re-inventing the wheel, I think that we are driving in a cooler van than everyone else, every track that we play on the album, we did it live in the room, you can’t not miss that when you hear it, there’s a real human connection on this album and that’s why a lot of our favourite records are our favourite records, it’s real people in a room, and that’s not a diss on other types of music or people pushing boundaries,

Sky Valley MistressOn the subject of recording the album, did the fact that you were recording in California with Dave Catching bring with it any pressure?

The pressure came before. We spoke to Dave a year before we went over, and booked the studio, once we booked our flights and knew that we would be in there for ten days, we had a few months before flying and I don’t think that we left the practice room. There were some serious hours put in there, we wanted to make sure that every song was just meticulous and we knew what each other was playing. If there was a section between the verse and the chorus then I want to know what my bass player is doing, what rhythm is he playing, everything was gone through with a fine tooth comb. We wanted to stand amongst giants, because all our heroes had recorded there, Iggy, QOTSA, everyone!

But Dave is the sweetest, kindest man and it’s just like a little house in the middle of the desert. It doesn’t feel like one of those glorified studios, super expensive equipment etc, no windows and a real sterile recording vibe, it’s someone’s house! There were times when we thought..oh maybe we should move this mic back a bit..and you can’t because there is a bed there!

Or it’s the kitchen!

Yes, exactly! But because we had done so much work beforehand, it meant that we all knew our parts and we could just have some fun recording. I think Dave respected how much effort we had put in before we got there. The surroundings at Rancho did inspire us, and some of the songs did come out different than I had imagined, everything at Rancho is full of sand and dirt! Nothing works unless it’s a specific way, and that’s what’s cool about it.

You also got Dave to deliver an incredible spoken word intro to the album, it’s mind blowing! Especially if you don’t know that it’s coming.

It’s pretty fucking cool isn’t it!

Yes it is!

We had that speech kicking around for ages, and we felt it was a great way to open the album, but we’re from bloody Lancashire! We didn’t know anyone with a good voice and the dream was to have Dave say it, because if you listen to QOTSA’s ‘Songs For The Deaf’ they have all the radio stations between songs and Dave is the last person to speak on the record….”This is Dave Catching, not saying goodnight…just saying” and because he finished that record, wouldn’t it be great if we could get him to start ours? You never think that it’s going to happen, but then again, you never think that you’re going to Rancho.

And then when you’re at Rancho and Dave is standing there asking..”Is it okay if I leave tonight and let you record on your own? because Paul McCartney is playing down the road and I’ve managed to bag two tickets”…So yeah, he went off down the road to Pappy & Harriets which holds about 200 people to watch Paul McCartney, and we were super jealous!

He came back, all of QOTSA were there, a few members of Kyuss, and Dave said…”Yeah I tried to get them to come here but they had stuff to do”…that’s the kind of guy he is, always going out of his way to make everything as cool as possible. We were being typical Northerners and had already asked him to play guitar on the album, and would it be cheeky if we asked him to also deliver the intro? He had had a few drinks and it’s nearly midnight so we thought…let’s see if he goes for it, so we slid it in front of him and said…”Dave, how do you feel about saying this and opening our record”…he half looked at it said….”Well, I’ll do it if it’s really cool”….then he read it and said…”Yeah, fucking A I’ll do that!” And he did it in like two takes. We said he could ad-lib if he wanted, so that opening part is all him! After he had a pause and said “THIS IS ROCK & ROLL”, we all looked at each other as if we were dreaming, hairs on the back of your neck standing up, everything, and it was special.

We had all these great stories from our time at Rancho between ourselves, we didn’t want to tell everyone until the record was out so we could show them everything. There’s no point in saying…hey check out all these cool things we did, but we’re not going to give you that record though. So we’ve not been able to tell anyone these stories, but now when we tell other people, it makes it real. I mean, there was one night when Arctic Monkeys were there for a barbecue, tell people that and they are like…what! It was a special time, and I hope that comes across on the record.

It certainly does, I feel that it’s quite an old-school album in the sense that the more you listen to it, the more you pay attention to it, then the more that you get out of it. And that goes for the incredible cover artwork as well.

Yes, you’ve got it! That was our whole motive, all our favourite records are the ones that we’ve listened to a million times, and then we might come into practice one day and say…”Have you heard that weird little shaker on track three..” that kind of thing. We didn’t want to over-produce the record so that we couldn’t reproduce the tracks live, we’ve been playing them live for a while and we didn’t want to put anything on it that would take anything away from the songs.

Production wise, we love all those little things that when you are listening to the album on cans at night, with your eyes closed, and you’re like…hold on..what was that? We’ve got loads of weird percussion things that do all sorts, there’s backward vocals, we put some strings on there which was insane. It’s like I said earlier, with the board game, and the cover, with everything linking, we wanted to create a world that you can be immersed in.

It certainly works that’s for sure, last time I checked it out, I actually got up and checked no-one was at the door because I heard some bizarre noises through the cans!

Honestly, when we first mixed it, I played it constantly, but until we started doing this promo I hadn’t really listened to it that much, and there are things that I had genuinely forgotten were in there. I can’t remember which song it is, but I was listening to it the other week and there is a zipper in there!

I’m really glad that you got it, and I’m hoping that more people do, and just get that there are layers to it.

 

‘Faithless Rituals’ is available 20th March, pre-order information can be found here.

Interview – Dave

Band image on header – Tom Bronowski

 

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