Last November, Voices released their second album, London. It took us (well, except me because my finger is totally on the pulse) completely by surprise, scoring a whopping 4.5/5 and storming the writers’ end-of-year lists.
I moved back to the UK just in time to catch Voices supporting Anaal Nathrakh at Camden’s Black Heart in April, and was lucky enough to chat to Peter Benjamin (vocals, guitars) and Sam Loynes (guitars, backing vocals) before the show.
Jean-Luc Ricard: We loved London here at Angry Metal Guy, but I don’t read many other metal websites or magazines. What has the general reception been like?
Peter Benjamin: It’s been pretty fucking amazing. I think people have been really looking forward to it as well because we tried to hype it up a bit. There’s been quite a wide range of reactions because it’s quite weird music. Some reviews have been a bit odd and you can tell that they don’t get it, but it’s quite a specific thing we’re doing so we don’t expect everyone to get it. We don’t really read reviews ourselves though – we’ve all been doing this for some years and we don’t really care what people think. Obviously it’s nice if people like it and it’s great for the level that we are – an extreme band in the UK – getting nice things said about us, that’s really cool.
JLR: Do you think the London press has understood it more?
Pete: Yeah, if anyone’s from London who’s reviewing it they might have a biased opinion, and I think if you’re from London or you’ve spent time there you’ll definitely have some relation to it personally, because it’s a personal journey on many levels.
JLR: Can you give a brief explanation of the general concept?
Pete: Each member of the band can interpret it differently really but it’s about… this is really difficult…
JLR: What’s your interpretation?
Pete: Personally I’ve put in a lot of research into this album… completely fucked up my life… because I wanted to make sure that it was real so that it was completely honest and natural. But in essence it’s a journey of a man, the antihero character, who goes about London and certain things happen to him…
JLR: Would you say that’s you then..?
Pete: I wouldn’t say it was me! But I think we all secretly have parts within the story that we relate to more than others, so we’ve all contributed something towards it ourselves in a personal way – a story, a lyric, or a riff or feeling. But it’s meant to be cryptic as well, because it’s kind of a secret… maybe it only makes sense to us. It’s about a lot of dark, personal journeys that people face, trying to survive and live in the city, and the temptations that they might have.
JLR: There’s this bit where he gets poisoned, and you’re not sure whether he actually is poisoned or whether it’s his imagination.
Pete: Yeah, we wanted that feeling you get maybe if you’re out drinking – or if you’re out just normally and you’re a crack head or something – and you’re in complete paranoia, and you don’t know if you’re in a movie or not. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in that situation, but if you find yourself in a cafe at five o’clock in the morning just like, “what the fuck?” Just getting the atmosphere of that coldness of being really alone and not connecting with anyone.
JLR: So, it’s pretty dark and depressing, and based in London, and you live in London and the band lives in London… would you say maybe it’s time to move?
Pete: <laughs> It’s not really that kind of thing, it’s more of an artistic observation. Obviously our personal lives aren’t all doom and gloom, so it’s not like we have major problems in life – we just wanted to show something that maybe people haven’t thought about before, and just do something original.
JLR: Well it’s definitely that. Do you think London itself is crucial or could it be any other big city where you can become an anonymous character?
Pete: I think that anyone who lives in any city could relate and crossover the story to their own city, I don’t think it’s particularly just about London. But we reference the night buses and things like that, and that’s a London thing. You’re sat on a night bus and paranoid at five in the morning, and you hate everyone and you just want to fucking go home… But I think it can relate to anyone that lives in a city and that experiences the craziness of it all.
JLR: Who came up with doing the spoken word links and who performed them?
Pete: That was David’s idea [David Gray, drums], because he’s really into War of the Worlds and things like that, so he wanted it to be kind of monumental in that way. The main reaction he wanted to create was “what the fuck is going on here?!” Musically that’s always been our aim as well – if you’re just sitting there going “shit, what’s going on?” That’s the criteria we use creatively for our music.
JLR: I’d say you’re doing pretty well. So it’s David who’s speaking, and whose is female voice?
Pete: David’s doing the narrative, and the female voice is Kat, who’s a friend of ours.
JLR: That adds an extra bit of weirdness as well.
Pete: Yeah, just another dimension. David’s an undertaker so he probably writes it on his lunch-break or something, gets his phone out and has an idea and just writes down “…is this real?” So he’s really great for that, he writes all those strange things.
JLR: But the main vocals are you – have you done vocals in a band before? Do you enjoy it?
Pete: Not as a main singer. I’ve been playing guitar and bass in bands, but I haven’t been a frontman for a while. It’s enjoyable yeah, it’s a really strange and amazing experience. I’m not particularly into egos – I think it should be more about the music, not being a complete weirdo onstage. Well, I say that but… I don’t want to hype up my own personality. You just want to give it some feeling and emotion.
JLR: Is it difficult to get into? The vocals sound so pained on the studio recording – is it difficult to get into that when you’re stuck in a room?
Pete: I don’t know… there’s a lot of different layers of vocals on the record, so that’s difficult – which one do I sing? I really enjoy performing it, it’s a really good exercise for the mind as well. It’s like a release.
JLR: Was this recorded at Goat of Mendes studios? Who produced it?
Pete: We recorded drums there, everything else we did in Hackney Road Studios. They have all analogue gear, it’s really amazing actually. Our bass player Dan [Abela] is an engineer and he works there sometimes, so we got some cheap rates and spent about three hours a week doing the rest of the record over a space of about six months. So one day we went down and did double bass, one day we did some vocals, acoustic guitar… Dan basically produced everything. He’s a bit of a legend.
JLR: How did the writing and recording differ from the first record?
Pete: The first record was an explosion of complete madness. We just got together and played some riffs randomly, and made them into songs – not forcing anything, just keeping it completely natural. It was a really cathartic explosion, basically… Horrible music. With the second one we thought a lot about where we wanted it to go, with the narrative as well, adding that kind of depth. Obviously there’s a few different instruments as well, a lot of double bass, acoustic guitar, a Fender Rhodes somewhere, a bit of soundscape. We wanted to add another dimension so we don’t get bored.
JLR: Speaking of not getting bored, I read in another interview about some post punk influences that you have like Killing Joke, and I got quite excited by that because I’m a big Killing Joke fan – do you see Voices incorporating a bit more of that in your next record?
Pete: I don’t know, I don’t want to say yet really. We’re influenced more by non-metal than metal, because we’re not really into metal to be honest. There’s obviously metal bands that we like, but there are more other style bands that we like more. We’re trying to get away from being categorized as just a black metal band or a death metal band, to make something where people go “oh, that’s Voices,” getting a distinct sound. We love the Killing Joke style riffs and weird chords, that’s in our blood really.
JLR: I think you played your album release show in November last year. Have you played much between then and now?
Pete: No we haven’t.
JLR: Not at all? So this is your second show since you released it?
Pete: We don’t play very often, because we’re only playing gigs that we want to do so we’re not accepting every gig offer. It’s not a full-time thing – we’re trying to take it seriously as much as we can but it’s extreme metal so, you know. Try and be an extreme metal band in the UK and you’ll find out that it’s not easy – it’s easy to get gigs, but it’s not easy to move up and get better gigs.
On search-engine optimization
<Sam Loynes [guitar & backing vocals] joins us>
JLR: When you chose the name Voices, and also the name London for the album, did you realize that would be really shit for Google searches?
Sam: It’s a bit like that thing in Peep Show where he says “we called ourselves Various Artists just to fuck with people with iPods.” I don’t think we really thought about it to be honest. It was an odd thing when we came to the name Voices. I think Pete said “voices,” I went Voices, and then David went … Voices, the three of us came to that, and it was actually David that came up with the title London. In typical form of what we like to do it’s something completely different from the first record, which had a long prolix for its album title.
JLR: I was asking Pete about his interpretation of the theme of London, so can you give us your take on it?
Sam: It’s cool to be asked that actually, and I’ll tell you why: I’ve recently been re-watching a lot of Mike Leigh movies. He’s a British director, for the most part he makes very bleak, social realism films, and he made a film called Naked that’s set in London about this nihilist anti-hero on a self-destructive path, and I realized that the record is almost a soundtrack to that movie. But before that, definitely The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, and the central character in that, Maurice Bendrix. Anything that deals with urban anxiety.
Pete: We took a lot of influence from movies and books more than from other bands and music.
JLR: It definitely has that cinematic feel running through it. Angry Metal Guy himself said it’s the only metal album he can remember enjoying with spoken-word passages.
Sam: <laughs> It was a risk yeah. It’s written and performed by David, he must be credited with that because it’s a tricky thing to get right, but somehow – I think – we got away with it.
JLR: And it [London] starts with such a mellow, quiet, reflective piece of music.
Sam: Well that was Pete’s song, and as soon as I heard it I said “that’s got to open the album” – again [thinking] there’s no point doing something like the first record, which hits you like a fucking ton of bricks with that first riff… and I just remember thinking how great would it be to edge people in, and then hit them with something hard-hitting, which is Music for the Recently Bereaved – it lulls you into a false sense of security.
Pete: That’s got everything in it – it’s got the narrative at the end, it’s got piano, it’s got the double bass, it’s really epic. After such a nice, sweet sounding song…
Sam: It sets the scene that opening song, if it is a cinematic piece then that’s the opening titles.
Pete: The first scene in the movie.
JLR: So if you had the budget and the time, would you like to do something like that – where you made a movie, or did a soundtrack to something?
Sam: Well it’s funny you should mention that because, obviously those people that have followed us a little bit since we started a few years ago [know] we’ve always done a bit of audio-visual stuff – getting videos up on YouTube. It’s how people like to get involved with bands these days and that’s awesome. I have an idea that is forming to do, potentially, a small release with some visual pieces, but I don’t want to say much more than that just in case it doesn’t materialize.
Pete: I really like what Neurosis did when they released A Sun That Never Sets – they did the whole album with visuals on a DVD. That was fucking awesome.
JLR: Do either of you, or the other band members, do much in the way of visual art yourselves?
Sam: I have a bit of a background in sound, art and audio-visual stuff so I orchestrate some of our stuff, but it’s very much a collaboration. Our recent video that we just did for “Last Train Victoria Line” was I guess my concept, but had it not been for the co-director called Finnian Moore and Pete and the rest of the band, and of course Sinéad [La Bella] who’s the main model in it, it could never have been done so… these things just don’t happen without collaboration. Someone might have the idea but it takes a small team of people, that for the most part are willing to do it for free, in order to make it happen and we’re just very lucky to be able to have these people.
JLR: Did you know Sinéad from previous work you’ve done?
Pete: She’s a mate of ours yeah.
Sam: She’s also in a band called The Courtesans so she’s a performer herself.
JLR: The concept for that video is something very different from the usual extreme metal approach of people playing very fast and gurning at the camera.
Pete: I was hoping that people would hate it or love it because I think that’s the best reaction – at least have a strong reaction. If someone hates it, which some people probably do – they just think “what the fuck is this?” That’s my favorite reaction. But Sinéad’s really good in that video.
Sam: It was something like eight thirty in the morning just off Whitechapel Road on a Sunday and it was cold. We timed it perfectly because Pete was the man in the djellaba, and it got to a point where we had pretty much finished the shot list after about two and a half hours of shooting, and just at that point the tension in the air was rising with some of the local people. It’s a religious area, and in no way is it a commentary on anything to do with religious tension; however, from an outsider’s perspective perhaps it might have looked a bit like that.
Pete: That djellaba is a religious garment so it was kind of odd standing there in the middle of the street wearing it.
JLR: I didn’t realize… that brings me on to another question: part of Akercocke‘s image [Pete, Sam and David all previously played in Akercocke] was the Satanism, but you seem to have broken away from that. Was that purely Jason’s thing [Jason Mendonça, former Akercocke frontman] or is it something you’re also into?
Pete: It’s a different band isn’t it, we didn’t want to go into that same subject matter because it’s been done in that band. We wanted to do something a bit more up-to-date and realistic, based around real feelings and personal stuff as well. <To Sam> What about you?
Sam: I can talk from a fan’s perspective as well because I eventually played a little bit for Akercocke, but for the most part I was a fan, and the Satanic thing – the suits, even Jason’s guitar – it was all so idiosyncratic to the band that to do some sort of regurgitated version of that would have been ridiculous, and we have no interest in that whatsoever. Why fuck with the legacy? There’s no point. So we were ready to do something that, I guess you could say is a little bit more down to earth if you like – less fantastical. Both are great, but it’s almost an antithesis in a way. We didn’t want to let go of some things – you need to have blastbeats and tits.
Pete: Yeah we kept that part of it. [But] the whole Satanic thing has been done.
JLR: Even when you did the Satanic thing, it was done differently from other bands.
Pete: I think our whole group of friends comes from a really creative and innovative group of people, bands like Ted Maul and Akercocke and all those guys. SikTh are back, Meta-Stasis…
Sam: Duran Duran.
JLR: You’re good mates with Duran Duran?
Sam: Oh yeah.
Pete: Bit of Kate Bush in there for me, that’s one of my big influences. Japan as well.
Sam: David Sylvian is the biggest influence on David as an artist. The influence is there. Bauhaus of course, Peter Murphy before he started taking crystal meth. Or maybe after actually as well. Scott Walker.
On other shit
JLR: What other projects are you guys involved with at the moment?
Sam: I’m stupid because I always say yes to anything that comes my way, metal or otherwise, so I find myself a little bit inundated. I’ve got another band called Shrines that’s probably the most active thing aside from Voices – it’s kind of Neurosis-y but Akercocke-y, bit of Gojira in there – we’ve got a record coming out imminently. There’s also another project that myself and David have been involved with called The Antichrist Imperium, [whose] main songwriter Matt Willcox is also from Akercocke, there’s a record with that coming out.
Pete: And you do your singing in pubs with the backing track.
Sam: Solo stuff yeah! I make more money off that than I do off heavy metal that’s for certain
Pete: <croons> “Because she loved me…”
JLR: Do you do weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs?
Sam: Yeah anything bar bar mitzvahs.
JLR: You’ve been barred from bar mitzvahs?
Sam: Oh yeah, they don’t like me there.
Pete: I’ve been building a greenhouse, doing a lot of gardening recently, digging some weeds up… But apart from that I play in a band called Shells, it’s a post-rock type band. I fill in on tour sometimes, everyone’s got other stuff that they do.
Sam: It’s always good when you have those breaks away from doing stuff, because those times where you are not so musically active can actually be so important to whatever comes up next. You’ll be fresh and ready to go whereas otherwise you’ll be thinking “oh fuck, I’ve got another gig.” I think I just need to tell a couple of my bands that they’re all cunts and they should fuck off.
JLR: I won’t ask which ones. So presumably you wouldn’t necessarily be keen if Voices did start making it a bit, going on tour… would you be interested in doing that?
Sam: I think we’ll just take every opportunity as it comes and we’re very lucky to have a small following now and a few people interested in playing with us. In terms of going pro, if the opportunity arises then we’ll take it from there, but you just don’t know.
JLR: What are each of your pre-stage rituals?
Pete: I go for a piss, and probably take some deep breaths, think about what I’m about to do and try and get in the zone, try and get a bit serious and get a character going.
Sam: I’m not too good with that actually, I’m on total autopilot mode until literally, I hear David hit the four count and then my whole personality completely changes for about forty minutes. And then it returns.
JLR: What’s your most embarrassing stage moment?
Sam: It was the first gig I ever played in Shrines, who were called Diminished Fifth before. It was our first ever gig and it was this big deal, we waited a year and a half rehearsing and everything, and we did this gig in our home town of Cambridge at the time. Literally, first thing that happened: four count, dropped my pick on the floor, looked like a twat, can’t play the first song properly. And then about half-way through the first song there’s a little interlude, I bent down to wipe my face because I was just sweating like a cunt, and I smack my guitar on the drum kit and the whole guitar goes out of tune, I had to change the guitar mid-song, and it was the most horrific experience, but everybody in the audience was like “that was great!” So it doesn’t matter in the end.
Pete: I think my most embarrassing moment is being in a band with Sam Loynes and David Gray, because it’s, fucking, quite embarrassing to be honest. Apart from that I can’t really think of anything. I’ve never broken a string onstage, that’s quite lucky…
JLR: Well that’s good, hopefully that won’t happen tonight. Have you played with Anaal Nathrakh before?
Sam: Yeah a couple of times. They’re out of order. Amazing band, and it’s a pleasure to have been asked.
JLR: I think I saw their first ever gig, in London at least…
Sam: Oh yeah I was at that one. And they said “we’re only playing one gig” <laughs>.
Pete: I just need to go to the water closet…
<Pete goes to the water closet>
On the genius of Chuck Schuldiner
JLR: I was pretty excited because Anaal Nathrakh finished playing, and Strapping Young Lad had been playing at the Mean Fiddler, and Gene Hoglan came to see the end of the Anaal Nathrakh gig.
Sam: Ah! I met him the other night because he played with Death at the Underworld, because they’ve been doing that Death tour. I was lucky enough to get a backstage pass and watched right beside his playing, and it was just fucking amazing, he’s so great. Lovely gent as well when we had a little chat. Death are a massive influence on my heavy metal upbringing, they shaped it really. He’s a genius, a total genius. It was the geezer from Cynic playing main frontman… Max Phelps. He even looks like Chuck! I’ve seen them twice now playing in London. It’s like a total homage to Chuck, it’s got no aspirations of “we’re doing Death again,” it’s totally about representing the genius of Chuck. I think all the profits go to whatever charity, so pure respect to those guys.
JLR: Watching Chuck play the guitar, he lifts his fingers so far away from the fretboard…
Sam: And he only uses three fingers if you notice, a lot of the time. It’s obvious all that is completely self-taught, he’s not been taught by the book.
Pete: You talking about Michael Angelo Batio? Really?
Sam: Er no. Chuck Schuldiner.
Pete: Oh right. <laughs>
Sam: And it just shows you that you wouldn’t hear those riffs the way they’re played if he was taught in a by-the-book manner. And that’s what death metal and music of any sort of left-field nature should be about.
And on that note, I left Pete and Sam to perform their pre-gig ablutions. If you ever get the chance, go and see Voices live. You will not regret it.