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Interviews: Matt Hyde from Beastwars

Beastwars have been busy in the studio recording their eagerly anticipated third album – following on from 2011’s well received self-titled debut Beastwars, and 2013’s sophomore album Blood Becomes Fire.  We caught up with vocalist Matt Hyde who keeps us in the loop with the band’s busy schedule, and fills us in on how their new album is coming along.

How is the recording of the third Beastwars album progressing?  Has it been an easier process this time round, or is each album an entirely new experience?
We are back in the studio this week to add more guitars, sounds and add some more vocal tracks. We managed to get about 90% done in the 5 days we had between the South Island shows and our Wellington show at San Fran Bathhouse. I’m not sure easier is the right word but definitely a different vibe, as we have tried a lot of new ways of writing this album compared to the last two records.

In terms of tone and style, what can be expected from this album?  Is there a narrative or conceptual element the band is hoping to convey?
Darkatmospheric filled with huge riffs. The album deals with realism more than sci-fiction – portraits of people dealing with life thru vice and religion, damnation and redemption, and also a complete sense of running out of time.. change comes very fast. No ending is perfect, in fact, the end is a possible stumble of unfinished hopes, ambition and dreams.

There’s an innate darkness and epic quality to Beastwars which is perfectly echoed in Nick Keller’s artwork for your previous albums Beastwars andBlood Becomes Fire, as well as the Beastwars custom-brewed beer label.  How did this collaboration for your artwork come about?
As the years have passed, our relationship with Nick has just become a great friendship – we love and admire his work.

What helps inspire your song writing?  Are other bands a big influence or do you prefer to conjure a unique sound?
I just try and look at the world and imagine advents, stories, victories and failings through the eyes of strangers; maybe sometimes even my own eyes.

Your recent tour with Jakob has just wrapped up.  Do you have any highlights from these shows?  Did you debut material from your upcoming album? 
The tour was great, being able to showcase our new material in front of an audience then jump into the studio was an ideal way for us to record. I believe we have captured our song ‘Horse’ (working title) particularly well when I listened back to the rough mixes. It is the song I hear when I’m standing on stage – I’m back there in the moment.

What’s up next on the Beastwars agenda?
At the moment the record. We are also playing Echo Festival in Auckland January 11th.. with a few other shows over the summer yet to be announced.

From The Archives:
Beastwars made the cover of ‘Rip It Up’ in 2013, as their second album ‘Blood Becomes Fire’ was released. Here is the interview the band did with Martyn Pepperell.
They’re our unlikeliest chart toppers, stars of a genre your mum has probably never heard of. But for Beastwars the slavish quest for popularity has no place in music. Rig It Up assembled the band for a ritualistic charring of flesh and imbibing of mead, which may have looked to an outsider like a pleasant weekend barbecue, and discussed the tribal nature of man and music. “People made music for centuries before the music industry,” says Matt Hyde.

On a warm Saturday evening in early March, Nathan Hickey, Clayton Anderson, lames Woods and Matt Hyde, the quartet collectively known in heavy metal circles as Beastwars, are gathered in the open plan kitchen/living room and backyard of Hickey’s house in the Wellington suburb of Mt Cook. Dressed in black band t-shirts and denim jeans, they’re each occupied with different tasks. Hickey is making a Greek salad and pouring everyone glasses of locally brewed craft beer. Anderson is outside, cooking a leg of lamb and a selection of sausages on the barbecue. Woods is stationed next to the stereo and record player, working through a stack of vinyl albums including works from Aerosmith, Arc of Ascent, Metallica, Scott Walker and The Stooges, amongst others.

Hyde stands in front of the communal kitchen table, looking at an assortment of different coloured guitar picks detailed with Beastwars artwork and phrases like ‘obey the riff’. They’re divided into one hundred individual piles of three, each of which will be packaged up with a red and gold vinyl record with full colour gatefold artwork by fantasy artist Nick Keller and a lyric sheet, as the deluxe edition of their second album Blood Becomes Fire, due for release in April. “Think about it, this represents the whole world,” Hyde says with a childlike wonder to his voice. “Outside of New Zealand, we’ve had pre-orders from places like Brazil, Norway and America.”

Handled through a dedicated website www. bloodbecomesfire.com, they’re also been offering the album on CD, as a standalone MP3 folder and as a t-shirt with download code attached. Committed to creating quality physical packages that match the visceral qualities of their internationally loved sludge metal, Beastwars attention to detail is born of a longstanding dialogue with an impressively loyal fan base. “People need to understand that when they buy a record from a band, they’re helping the band make more music,” Hyde explains. “We wouldn’t be making this second album without people buying physical copies [or coming to shows]. At the end of the day, all of the people who have bought t-shirts and CDs and vinyl made us be able to make this album.”

As Hickey finishes assembling the salad and Anderson completes the barbeque, the group gathers around the kitchen table for a few drinks and a meal, expressing a shared enthusiasm for what Blood Becomes Fire adds to the Beastwars oeuvre, while reflecting on the positive overseas feedback they’ve had from media outlets, and the sheer volume of shows they’re played together since they released their untitled debut album in 2001. ‘‘We’ve played more shows between the first and second album than we had while we were becoming a band,” Hickey says. ‘‘I think when the first record came out we had a local fan base in Wellington, but the rest of the country was kind of surprised. It was like we came out of nowhere.” Still all working day jobs, Beastwars are family men, or at the very least coupled up men.

Off stage and off record they have a settled calmness, a quality diametrically opposed to the heroic, celebratory energy their music possesses both live and recorded. Emotionally, they impact as hard as many of their heroes, yet making the transition into making a full—time living out of the band has never been an explicit priority. In fact, they actually seem to draw strength from living lives less lopsided. “We’re free,” Hyde enthuses, speaking with his eyes shut and exuding an electric energy with every word. “We’re free from all that world of having to become a product to be sold. We are free because we are in our own time, our own space. Don’t think the band just ends because you have to go to work. It walks with you. It is with you in every moment.”

“If you want to make lots of money, become a lawyer,” Woods laughs. “If you want to be famous, do something stupid, get it filmed and put it on the Internet. If you’re making music to make money or become famous, sorry buddy, you’re in the wrong game.” “People made music for centuries before the music industry,” Hyde elaborates. “They just made it a part of their life. They’re just go to the fields, and they got food, and they made music when they got home at nighttime. It’s just an old ritual that we are following.” Last year they took things full circle by returning to the Dunedin based studio where they recorded their first album, again choosing to call on the mercurial ears of audio engineer Dale Cotton for recording, mixing and co-production duties, along the way borrowing equipment from old school Southern legends like Stephen Kilroy and Bob Scott. In a process that took ten days, Cotton pushed Beastwars to the edge, engineering a unique state of emotional conflict, which eventually unified the band against him, leading to a remarkable outcome. “The job of a producer is to bring the music out of you and make it the best they can,” Hickey says. “He has interesting techniques, they pushed us to a new level.”

“You’re in this space for ten days of madness,” Hyde says. “It really was the height of darkness. We were so happy when we arrived. We were so sad when we left. When you look back, that was what was done, that was what we had to go through.” Lyrically shadowed by the concepts of age, life, sickness, physical change and spiritual change, Blood Becomes Fire is essentially a reflection on mortality and the human instinct to, when death comes knocking, call for something higher, even though, as Hyde puts it, “there may be nothing, we may be talking into the blank.” With Hickey (drums) and Woods (bass) locked together in an increasingly machine like manner, Hickey’s virtually tribal rhythms and Woods viscous bass ooze serve as a perfect backdrop to Hyde’s massive voice, pained yet melodically expressive as it is. Meanwhile, Anderson’s triumphant guitar riffs rally the rest of the band, lending a wartime feel to the music, and in the process presenting them as fearless gladiators locked into the midst of a never-ending cosmic conflict, qualities all enhanced by Nick Keller’s remarkable oil painting artwork.

“I think we deal in old, eternal themes,” Hyde says. “We’ve just thrown them into the modern world. Look, nothing has changed. Society has not changed. It is still the same. There is the elite, the workers in the middle and the poor. That is all it is. When a show is happening, we all get together and say, fuck that! It’s just about the music, you know? That is what I think Beastwars is, a celebration of tribalism and life! A celebration of being a human being. I have to work, I have kids, but at the moment of the music, everyone escapes together.” In the background, American-British songwriter Scott Walker wails forlornly through a speaker. Coupled with Hyde’s words it’s a salient moment. From darkness comes new light, and may Beastwars continue to prove this for years to come. Blood Becomes Fire is out April 20th (Record Store Day).

‘Born Of Fire’ sourced from Rip It Up No. 352, April/May 2013. Grateful acknowledgment to Grant Hislop for letting us use this material on our site.

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