BY MARIA GLOVER
So, Firegarden have just released their tenth album, 'Voyage To Crab Mountain', and we caught up with them on how the record came together, talking crabs (obviously), headless bass, and blankets…
As the majority of the band have been together a long time, I was interested in what inspires them to write new material, and how they work off of each other to come up with the finished article; Ashley says - "We were trying to write throughout 2016 and not really getting anywhere and then the situation shifted around and it just started pouring out of us. We wrote the majority of the album in just a few weeks. There wasn’t anything we could do about it, it just happened." Having parted ways with their keys player last year, the band found themselves in search of a new direction and they found a new sense of purpose says Jake, "We suddenly found ourselves as a ‘new’ band again, and we wanted to show everyone what we could do as a three piece. We found we could write quickly with a sense of energy that was fresh. Adele’s inclusion, right at the end of the writing process, was what we needed to finally put out a few older ideas that we’d struggle to finish".
Singer Adele joined the band last summer and immediately added some lyrics to pieces of music that were incomplete, which became 'Lilith' and 'Shoot For The Moon'; "I wrote the lyrics for ‘Lilith’ for a song that the guys had knocking about. It is about Adam and Lilith, born equal from the clay of Eden, and Adam’s expectation that she will be subservient to him. Fuck that, she thought. ‘Shoot for the Moon’ was born of a similar nature; lyric-less music was waiting." The rest of the album came out of years working together and jam sessions with Jake, Ashley and Chris; "A lot of this album came out of jams. Some things were pre-conceived. But mostly we pieced together spontaneous ideas from the rehearsal room." says Jake.
With an experienced band, the majority of whom know each other so well, it must be easy to write killer songs. You'd think. You'd be wrong, it takes a lot of hard work and dedication; Ashley tells us "I do most of the structural arranging, write 95% of the drums and act as quality control. Chris does most of the bass parts and is good for solving the problem bits and coming up with cunning tricks. Jake has a raw untrained folksy approach and Chris is a schooled expert of musical theory." And then, of course, there's the kit - "Jake uses a nice Strat and a Pacifica as a back-up. Chris’ bass is a six string without a head. I use an old Pearl Masters kit; it’s got a warm round sound that I like. The cymbals are a mixed bag; the hats are Sabian HHX groove hats which are lovely; the main crash is a Stagg which sounds like a Zildjian K four or five times the price." Among the pedals they used on the album are a TC Sub ‘n’ Up, an MXR DI+ ("that destroys any other bass EQ/Shaper I’ve ever played"- Chris), an MXR Sub Machine Fuzz pedal, and the Dirty Robot.
With a wealth of experience behind them, just how much kit do they own…? Chris tells us about his bass collection - "I used my primary performance bass, a Wood and Tronic Aileron 6 custom
headless, for the first time on a complete album which was a lot of fun. I’ve got it failed in with my pedals and amp exactly where I want it, gruff tube tone when digging in and silky smooth on the
quieter dynamics. I have a number of basses and each brings its own tone and feel. The choice always comes from the requirement of the recording. This album needed breadth of tone and range of
pitch so the selection was simple.”
Jake will only admit to one guitar - a Fender Strat American Special; "It’s a very versatile guitar that is able to handle high gain stuff without feeding back, and is responsive to changes in dynamics." At this point Adele informs me she is the 4th best guitarist in the band- "I have a Yamaha Pacifica that I bought when I was 18. I can play the solo from Patti Smith 'Because the Night'. And strum through a verse of Tracy Chapman’s 'Revolution'. The trick to hiding incompetence is to draw out the singing to give me more time to arrange my fingers..." She's joking, of course, I'm sure she can do more than one verse of 'Revolution'...
With a well-established group of guys, and a new, strong and outspoken female vocalist, it would be normal to hit some teething problems but the guys say there were no issues or problems; Jake- "We generally don’t have issues. What we get is a central idea that is evolved by the individual member to form a better track… We recorded at Old Pig Farm Studios in Sheffield on October 2017. (It) took 3 or 4 days in total to lay everything down." The mixing process was the only wrinkle says Ashley - "We took the basic tracks in a couple of days with the drums, bass and guitar all playing in a room together. That’s the only way if you want the feel of an ensemble playing. The mixing took longer than we’d hoped. The breakthrough was putting a tiny bit more reverb on the master channel. Such a tiny detail and it just brought us to a point where we then knew how to get to our goal."
And what's the message behind an album with tracks like 'Crabs' and Pigeons'? Ashley explains, "We know exactly what we want but it’s very hard to say it in words. We’ve got very close to our goal so that’s gratifying. It’s a ‘70s rock and prog influenced sound… a synthesis of all the music we’ve ever heard and enjoyed. There (are) several threads running through the album. The story is about a Voyage undertaken to the mysterious Crab Mountain and the things you might find there such as the ‘Mountain’ itself, the giant ‘Crabs’ that live there or the occult figure ‘Lilith’. On the album the Voyage is made on a terrifying ‘Ghost Ship’. A thread of grief and loss runs through the album; from ‘Magic’ which describes Gilgamesh’s grief for the loss of his friend Enkidu through ‘Crushed by Falling Rocks’ to a final acceptance of that loss in ‘Incomplete’. Finally there’s a bit of rock and roll at the end and it’s resolved to do ‘One More for the Road’ and keep going. It’s about a metaphysical journey that hopefully the listener will be able to use as a metaphor for anything they may be going through right now." Well I did ask.
The stories behind some of the songs vary, from strength and forging your own path ("in fabulous heels"- Adele), to Dr Who (I knew it! Check out our review of the album), to hidden illness, to… patchwork quilts. Ashley explains - "That’s the song 'Incomplete' which was made up out of lots of bits of unfinished songs. It’s like a patchwork blanket that’s been made up out of bits. It’s a good way to use up all the awesome bits of song that we write that we don’t know what to do with. It’s one of the best songs on there because it’s got more bits in it than some bands would put on a whole album."
Ashley had very clear views on the artwork that should adorn the album; "I had this picture in my mind of a woman with a bird’s head dancing on a beach with a giant crab. I was very much thinking about sexuality and how artists (have) cheapened their work by putting soft porn on the covers. It’s compelling and it must sell and I wanted to subvert that with the Pigeon head and I guess subconsciously I was thinking about mythical bird-headed women like Ishtar or Lilith. The Crab makes the image grotesque; all those gribbly legs. It’s a kickass cover and I’m really pleased with it."
'Voyage To Crab Mountain' is a kickass album and out now.
Jake Mann - Guitar, vocals
Ashley Tuck - Drums
Chris Heald - Bass, vocals
Adele Louise - Vocals
To buy a copy of 'Voyage To Crab Mountain: