Dead Head - Interview


Time flies and Dutch thrash legends Dead Head (still too underrated!) turn out to be 35 this year. As a special birthday present they offer a new EP called "Shadow Soul" with eight fantastic songs of which some are top notch in their career. Once again, Robert Woning (guitar) and I had a relaxed Skype chat where we talked about the EP of course and the upcoming plans of the band. Oh, and did you know that they once opened a show for Slayer? That was another steep template to go more into detail with actual events concerning Tom Araya and co. Enjoy reading, hope you have one or the other laugh like Rob and I did.

Michael

First of all, congratulations for the 35th anniversary of Dead Head. Unfortunately I forgot to bake a birthday cake for our interview. Did you think that the band would exist for such a long time?

If I look at the friendship between Hans (Spijker; M.) and me, we are playing in a band together since 1986. And I have known our other guitar player Ronnie (van der Wey; M) since secondary school when we were like 14, there would be a possibility. But of course when you're young, you're not looking out into the future that far. Obviously first of all you think you wanna live forever and secondly you have other focuses like becoming famous (laughs). But I see a lot of bands that don't make it and I see a lot of bands that stay with one original band member …I think we did pretty well with Dead Head.

With "Shadow Soul" you are going to celebrate an anniversary with a really cool EP. Were the songs some leftovers from "Slave Driver" or are they new stuff?

We had 2 ½ songs left over that were written and partially recorded. We thought that 10 tracks for Slave Driver would be enough, because for this kind of extreme music thirteen tracks would have been too much. So we did a selection and the tracks that didn't come on Slave Driver were a little bit different. So originally we had the idea to do the Depression Tank reissue with a bonus CD. Because it is the same singer (Ralph) again, we could use the leftovers for it. But we quit that idea, because we recorded too many songs and thought it was a stupid idea. Because 'bonus tracks' implies that these songs had not been good enough for the album and were second choice. And people would just don't look at it like they would with the reception of a regular album. Around the same time we were looking at what we were gonna do with Hammerheart Records and we told them to do this EP idea, and mentioned examples like 'Flag Of Hate' by Kreator or 'Eyes Of Horror' by Possessed. They thought it was a great idea, although they also saw some problems with the marketing because the recordings only spanned 29 minutes. It's like "Raining Blood", but it's not, of course. Even Napalm Records who do the distribution asked how they were gonna sell this. But eventually they said it was a great idea and they would do it anyway. I think with this mini album we offer value for money. But people who are considering it as a full album… they might say it's a little short (laughs). I think Hammerheart is selling it at 2 Euros cheaper than a regular (full) album.

At least my opinion is that the songs are groovier and more straightforward than on "Slave Driver". A track like 'Serpents Of Fame' is a kind of track for what I always loved Dead Head for. Aggressive, groovy, fast and a lot of thrash vibes back from the 80s.

Yeah, for the next one we're gonna write hit songs (laughs). I think if you consider that some of the songs could have been on Slave Driver, that could have been a more versatile album. I don't know. But it's a democratic thing, with four or three people in the band making decisions. Sometimes some guy says "whatever you do, I don't mind". Other time everybody wants to have his, saying things. The same goes with the sequence of the songs on Slave Driver. In hindsight, nobody in the band understands why the second song became the second song. But back then it was like a huge discussion.

'The Age Of Hype' was the first single you dropped. In the song you have lyrics: "Blast information, Useless predictions, Contextual damage, Wake up!". I guess you want to make a statement against the overflowing media on the internet?

It's more from a perspective from people who say that you shouldn't follow the leaders/the government. But actually the title was inspired by the opposite. I know there more and more people who want to be part of something. If something is happening, everybody wants to be part of it. For example AC/DC is coming and is selling tickets for crazy expensive prices. But the shows still sold out. There are a lot of things people want to be part of these days. And you always have to choose. If you're not with them, you're against them. It's a polarization that is happening very much. And we're living in an age of hype, because nobody thinks for themselves anymore. They just follow the trend. That was the inspiration for the title. And Ronnie, who usually writes our lyrics, took his own ideas. He never asked me what the title was about (laughs). We had this title for about a year. And then we put it on this song, because we had already the chorus. It's also a little bit inspired by the fact that we put the instrumental intro to it, with some kind of demonstration noises there. Almost like some kind of Megadeth or Nuclear Assault approach.

You are working for Dutch television, so isn't that song pretty much conflicting for you?

Some media are really trying to influence the opinion, but others are just reporting. Our station reports about the region where I live. We have stories about stuff that's happening there, ranging from accidents to political discussions. I know that these days some people are convinced that the media are being paid by the government to influence the people. And that the government dictates what the media write. I can tell you that, especially in Holland, the editorial staff makes their own choices. And that they are sometimes pretty critical towards the government. I know we are critical towards our local government, because they regularly make bad decisions. Our function is to guard that. If you live in Italy, Belarus, Russia or even the US, the media are likely more influenced by the government. I think it is the first time that Dead Head did a song that touches that subject. In the past we only used to do this "hell, Devil, Satan" thing (laughs).

Yeah, I thought that it is your most political song you ever did. Not political in the real sense, but you have a certain message in it. And I think that it is important to have a message these days.

Well, for us it was more like…  we're seeing Dave Mustaine doing this all the time.

Haha, okay, but I think that he is some kind of goofy guy… Coming back to the lyrics, do you use some things you experience in your job for them?

I wrote just a few lyrics to finish up one song. For us in Dead Head the music will always come first. In retrospect, we're a very boring band. I remember from back in the day, that some bands were really politically motivated. And half the interviews they would do were about that. But for us, it's always been about the riffs, about the ideas and about the experimentation with thrash metal. I think a lot of our songs had lyrics about religion. But I don't write many lyrics. I'm more the coordinator in the band. Keeping track of our archive and recycling some unused riffs. That's my function. We usually gave the finished music to Ronnie. And because he works at a lot of night-shifts and reads books non-stop, he had a lot more inspiration for lyrics than I do. And actually, since Ralph came back in the band, he started writing his own lyrics as well, sometimes together with Ronnie.

'Dark Emptiness' is a very unusual instrumental song for you, which sounds a lot like old Testament on "The New Order" if you ask me. Is this a new darker and more melodic aspect we get to hear from Dead Head more from now on?

Yes and no. On our The Festering demo (1990) we already had a track called 'The Tribulation' which was an acoustic in-between-song. On Swine Plague we had a song called 'The Reformation' with the same idea. I'm coming back to Ronnie, our other guitar player. He is the guy who had lessons on classical guitar when he was 12 or 13. He's the guy that can sit there with his guitar and do these classical themes. Maybe you could compare it with Exodus. Their song "No Love" had an intro like this, back on "Bonded By Blood". It's provides for a break on an album with intense music. However on Shadow Soul we put that break at the end of the mini album. It is the only song that we didn't record in the studio. We did it at the rehearsal place, at our drummers house. We spent a whole afternoon perfecting it. And then the guy from our studio who mixed our albums, Erwin Hermsen, mixed it properly. It was just an idea on which was built on and then we put it on the album. Maybe we should do it all the time, so that we put more variety in our music. In general… for this EP, we had more guts and thought that we could do anything musically.

But this is something that we won't hear more often from you?

I don't know. I mean, if we get together… usually what comes out is stuff like Possessed, Sacrifice or Sadus. We tried different musical things in the past as well, but sometimes we threw away whole songs. Because they didn't fit the concept or whatever. This time with 'Caverns Of Fate' there is a song on the EP which is totally slow. Which is different for us, but we have a lot of those ideas. We still have one piece from our other guitar player Ronnie, which is total Mercyful Fate worship and a total killer. It has been in three songs, but we always took it out. I still want to use it one day. We also have had stuff in the style of Death from the "Symbolic" era. Because that's what we really like. But it's hard to incorporate it. And sometimes it is one riff that we have where you even don't notice that we stole it from Mercyful Fate. It's a wish we have to be more versatile. But we had this whole song called 'Spirit', and it was just thrown away. It was a great song, but it was so different. So we only used one riff of that on our album Swine Plague. Now we cannot use the song anymore, because we used that part already (laughs). It's a creative struggle. We also had one song that was so much like Slayer, that everyone in the band was laughing. "You can't do that".  But it was a really cool intro. I think I could sell it to Kerry King now.

I know that you were an opening act for Slayer in the past – last week the world was surprised by the announcement that Slayer is going to be reunited at least for some shows. Any thoughts about that?

We were support for one time only. I mean, my interest in Slayer died when Hannemann died and Lombardo was thrown out. The punk / hardcore edge that they brought to the band, is what I like most about Slayer. Not to put Kerry down, because he was the guy that was holding it together for almost ten years. And he's also a great guitar player. But then they got Gary Holt, who's been my guitar hero since when I was 15. I must have played guitar along with "Bonded By Blood" at least 400 times. But Gary Holt and Slayer was like…I don't know. He just belongs in Exodus. I understand that they continued, because they cannot bring Jeff Hannemann back to life. But about "Repentless"…  I can honestly tell you that I never heard it. Because I have no interest in that band. I'm more into death metal, listening to Immolation and Suffocation almost non-stop. That's more my interest. But about Slayer – it was a matter of time. Because maybe the money ran out, maybe Tom Araya's wife was fed up with him sitting at home (laughs). It's okay, I think. We still can see Slayer. And that's what a lot of people want. I mean, it is cool how it's played, with all the opinions about it. Tom Araya's wife said 'if you think it's about the money or it's lame', then just don't go. But if you wanna go and enjoy, just go ahead. I think that's the right approach. But the timing is totally weird, with Kerry King just having released that solo album. Nobody will understand. Imagine being in Kerry Kings band. And then you hear the  news about that reunion.

So what do you think about the Kerry King song? I guess it turned out great.

I have no opinion about one song, because I want to hear the album. I think it's cool for him that he can go out and play some old Slayer songs and some new ones. Still… Mark Osegueda, I prefer him to be the singer for Death Angel. I would have rather seen that Kerry had taken an unknown guy.  Because now it will sound like Death Angel and some people say that he is trying to imitate Tom Araya. I mean, do we really need that from Mark Osegueda?

Well, I liked the song but the cover is…

Yeah, there's more discussion about the cover than about the music.

Yes, I think it's the same with the new Deicide – did you see that cover yet?

I heard that there is a similarity. Let's put it that way (smiles). My other band – Beyond Belief, the doom band I played in – we had the same album cover as Six Feet Under ("Haunted") and this was way before digital edit and artificial intelligence. We were first and we had it painted by the sister of the former bass player. Next the album by Six Feet Under came out and it was almost the same. Everybody was like: "hey you stole that!". But we didn't.

What about your upcoming plans in 2024? Maybe some shows in Germany?

That's my main purpose. Of course, we have these places in Holland where we usually come back to, but one of the reasons why I am in the band is to see other places. We played some Belgian shows recently again and that's always nice. We also did this festival in Germany and I always loved to play in Germany. To my surprise, even though we're not that well-known, there are always guys coming over to our shows in Germany. It's almost like we're some best kept secret. Aside from that, we already have five songs written for the next album. Plus we are still gonna do the Depression Tank reissue, which is almost entirely re-recorded and remixed. It could actually be our best-sounding album, which is funny for a reissue. We are gonna add a live bonus CD to that reissue, which is actually recordings from that era. Back in 2008 and we did quite a few shows with Ralph already. He still sound very young on those recordings. (laughs). This Depression Tank reissue will come out at the end of the year.

Entered: 5/13/2024 6:38:34 PM

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