They have just released their debut album The Ghost We Caught On Film, shot a live session for the BBC and recently played Leicester’s O2 Academy, so being as being as they are keeping themselves so busy, we thought it best to grab a hold of noise-makers ASH MAMMAL and try to find out what makes them tick.
In the past you have described yourselves as “witch punk”. What does that mean to you, and how do you channel it into your music?
Thinking back to when punk first appeared, it was about exposing the darkness of a society that was trying to ignore it’s problems. It was born of all these frustrations and anger people were feeling bubbling to the surface. Since then, society doesn’t need to hide itself. It’s become a traveling freak- show that we love to watch. In the current state of things, we all feel like we’re left with a big complacency, and “witch punk” is about conveying that. Pure anger doesn’t translate with many people anymore, people are afraid to feel anger.
We always loved the dark and twisted stories growing up, there’s just something very comforting and affirming in them. We like exploring the mythical shit. There was one book that really made an impact, ‘The King of the Copper Mountains.’ He was this dying king, whose life force was maintained by people telling him stories. He had visitors from all over the land, who would come and tell him about their lives, or adventures, or just about any tales they had heard. All the while, his missionary was out looking for rare flower that could cure his disease. It was sick, there was something really captivating about the aesthetic of that story, and the artwork that went along with it. That kind of really out-there conceptual stuff is something we want to channel in our music. Another thing that we’ve take inspiration from for Witch Punk, just visually, is the kind of aesthetic of old kids shows, like ‘The Clangers.’ Just the use of puppetry that’s given so much life, and given this eerie, deathly quality to it. They have those jerky movements, it’s kind of creepy, but also kind of cute. We like to think we’re the musical equivalent of the Clangers. Especially in terms of our performance.
Your album The Ghost We Caught On Film has seen you really expand your sound from your previous release, the Body Dysmorphia EP. Was it something that you active strived towards, or did it occur organically?
With the way we write, it’s not necessarily moving away from an old sound, it’s more a matter of deeply exploring the ideas that we had started creating through Body Dysmorphia, and the ideas/concepts we had established there. The main way we have evolved as a band is through escaping the need to sound like others; at no point anymore, do we strive to capture the sounds and aesthetics of other bands, because it’s taken the fun out of it before, and meant we were all trying to create different things.
We aim to improve ourselves rather than looking at specifically changing anything. We want to have minimalism, or a big band sound, harmony, dissonance, doom, fuzz, it’s all about exploring the spectrum of possibilities. There was a time when we would try to channel emotions of other songs rather than create a new, personal song with it’s own intricacies. For us now, constructing songs to be uniquely ‘Ash Mammal,’ is the most organic way to compose, and what we tried to do when writing the album.
Tell us a little about the album. What inspired you – both lyrically and musically – when writing it? Your sound is quite bittersweet.
Why thank-you. We initially recorded the album on four track tape, (which will be digitally released as Basement to Pyre – date tba). During that time, we were kind of locked in a room together for a few weeks, and you can go a little stir crazy, even if it’s with your best friends. When you’ve got four people, who are putting in all their emotional effort, their experiences, their inspirations, it can get very confusing and overwhelming, but it just comes back to that initial spark, the need to express what your feeling.
During those weeks, we were opening up completely as artists, outside of our comfort zone, and we were put into just a raw state of creative freedom. We watched a lot of movies together, like 80s B-movies, or Cass always had the Horror Channel on. We actually weren’t listening to much music during recording, with the exception of the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds. I don’t really know why we picked that one, well, it’s pretty fucking amazing. It was more an inspiration in that it was possible to think in that way musically, the achievement of such a masterpiece of composition being possible helped us aim really high while we were recording. There’s so much incredible stuff going on in that album really opened the play-box.
You self released the album; how do you feel now that it is out? Has it been liberating?
Yeah, well, the only reason we self released was because nobody really gave a shit. I jest! But, it is really comforting to have the reins for releasing the album, the creative control, and stuff. It’s scary, but good that there’s now a definitive version of Ash Mammal out there, and we’re all proud we’ve got something substantial to expose to people that is uniquely ours. We may still be working at getting our name out, but we have a really cool base to jump up from now, as well as lots of studio experience. We love creating stuff, we want other people to love what we’ve created too! The next step is to jump off our safe base and really challenge ourselves with our next release, so stay tuned.
Ash Mammal seems like a very singular entity. How did you all come together to form the band? Do you all share the same artistic vision, or do you ever have to compromise on what you want to create?
We met in the library. We were young, and strange, the sun was cruel to us, and we didn’t like the shadeless-ness of the playground. We used to write codes and stories, and hide them amongst the sprawling shelves, the tops too high for us to reach. We found each other there, at first we found the words, and then the ciphers to decode them. Once we were aware of one other, we planned to meet. We gathered in the twilight silence, cradled by the bark of a hollow tree, and there, we shared all our secrets. It was that day we made a pact, a promise, to always be truthful to one another, to never tell a lie. And the Ash Mammal was born.
From the start, it’s always been about compromise, that’s what happens when you bring together four people who are creative, but in totally different ways. More recently, there’s less unhelpful debate because we have a clearer direction we’re heading in, and we all kind of want the same thing in terms of the music. Sometimes that push and pull is really important, we can try suggesting something really out there, and at first it might be met with scepticism, but we have learnt to try out new things to see if they’ll work. Sometimes they don’t, but sometimes they really do, and they can transform a song from just being good, to being really exceptional (in our opinion.) That’s the benefit of a band environment, working together as diversely creative people, instead of fighting for creative control. It’s the battle for the balance of the egos.
You have built up a reputation for being a very intense band when it comes to live performances. Have you always been confident performers or was it something that you had to work on over time?
Honestly, at first, performance was all that we had. We learnt to play our instruments together, and at the beginning we weren’t exactly prodigies. We were really just a bunch of kids with guitars. Sure, maybe each of us were playing in different keys, but we had a great fucking time doing it, and we were going to put on a good show for the three people that turned up. Besides that, the stage always been an outlet, we were all a bit quiet and weird at varying degrees when we were younger, expressively repressed in some ways. Band was a free ticket to a public meltdown, judgement free. In fact, sometimes we even got paid!
For all of us, but especially George, there’s always been the issue of finding it hard to get in touch with anger and more volatile feelings, so our stage personas have become a chance to explore that. Performance is just a non-verbal way to express emotions. We have a philosophy that heavier bands are always more chilled out and emotionally balanced as individuals, because they have this opportunity to get all the bad shit out on stage. That’s very true for us. For the audience as well, drama at shows is very important and engaging, there was this interview that Jack White did where he talked about making things as difficult for himself as possible, leaving guitar picks far away from him during a show, so he had to dart to the back of the stage if he ever dropped one. That’s something we appreciate, the challenge makes it funner for us and the audience.
You’re from Leicester; is there much of a creative scene there? Do people support each other artistically?
Haha aha… no, but honestly, Leicester is an incredibly culturally and creatively diverse city. Inevitably this has created an greatly varied art scene, in Leicester, you have access to all this music, art, writing, food, from around the world, from different cultures, from different people. As people who all grew up here, we feel incredibly lucky and privileged to be able to experience this city and everything it has to offer. For many years, we hung out together at an art class, we’re all artists in varying ways, we have friends who live in galleries. Without the scene in the city, I don’t think the band would have been created, just because it was born out of the great encouragement and support of creative thinking and living.
In terms of the music scene, we all have our musical pals, the other Leicester bands who played with us at our album launch at the O2, Kermes and Courtney Askey, know us well, and we all try to go to each-others shows and support our work as much as we can. Like any city, Leicester has it’s “Roaming Ancients”, the older generations of musicians who are local legends and have helped to guide us through the Leicester music scene. Overall, Leicester is a very creatively charged city to be in. There’s always cool, weird shit going on if you look hard enough.
‘Fresh Veined Skin’ is a fantastic track. We see you recently recorded a live session of that song and ‘Axehead’ for The Beat at BBC; how does it feel to have more people taking notice of your music?
Thanks a lot! It’s one of our favourites. In terms of gaining exposure, it’s really rewarding to be getting feedback from people within the industry. It’s like we’ve been children, craning our necks to look over the fence into a beautiful garden, and now all of a sudden, people on the other side are looking back at us, and inviting us inside. We’ve poured our hearts and souls into our work, it’s very gratifying to get some positive (as well as critical) recognition.
What plans do you have for Halloween and what 5 tracks will you be listening to to get you into the mood?
Ah Halloween! When our witching powers are at their peak. We’re playing a headline show at Suki10c in Birmingham on Friday, the 28th of October. We can’t wait, we played the same show last year, and we won’t forget it. We were all dressed as the Addams family, this year we’re doing wizard of Oz, Stan is going as the tornado; appropriate. I’m not sure if you should come along actually, last year some spooky shit went down.
It all started when George wanted to empty his bladder pre-gig. (a necessary ritual) The bathrooms were… modest. Appropriately dingy for a punk venue, the walls, riddled with drunken scrawl, the scent of urinal tablets (you know the ones) permeating the tepid air. It was the kind of place that would be unnerving for any young George, alone in the darkness in his most vulnerable state. It was at this time that he sensed a presence behind him; briefly taken aback, George was alarmed by the seeming sudden appearance of a very large man, nearer to him than perhaps he was comfortable with. He noted quickly, that he didn’t seem to have any malicious intent, he must have been one of those people who sell perfume. Verifying this theory, George saw, by the sinks, many bottles of glittering liquids, ‘it was perfume,’ he thought, ‘although an unconventional way of displaying ones wares.’
Georges attention was drawn back to the seller, suited, and fucking huge to be honest, he gestured to his makeshift cologne tuck-shop, and with tears in his reddened eyes, he sorrowfully uttered the words: ‘Help me out mate.’
George didn’t really know what to do. This was getting really weird. He had no choice but to reply with a forlorn: ‘I’m sorry, I’ve got nothing on me,’ before scarpering back into the smoke filled comfort of the venue floor. Later that night, Cass remarked that he didn’t recall the presence of any perfume seller in the mens toilets of the club, ‘Honestly it didn’t seem like that kind of place.’ Looking back, I agree. Was it a ghost? Lets just say that George is bringing an appropriate amount of change this year. If you come along, we suggest you do the same. I wouldn’t want to ensue the wrath of the Phantom Perfume Peddler of Suki10c.
Ash Mammal’s debut album The Ghost We Caught On Film is out now on Spotify and all digital platforms. The band play Club L’amour at Birmingham’s Suki10c tonight. (They wish you a Happy Halloween via a playlist, with love.)