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Dead Head

Dead Head is altijd een band geweest die op muzikaal en technisch niveau altijd garant heeft gestaan voor kwaliteit, en zijn mijn inziens een van de betere thrash bands van de Nederlandse bodem. Helaas is de band ook bijzonder ondergewaardeerd en heeft nooit de erkenning gekregen die ze verdient. Vorige maand verscheen de nieuwe elpee (en tevens hun eerste in acht jaar tijd), ‘Swine Plague’; een ijzersterk album die alles bevat wat een kwalitatief-hoogwaardige thrasher moet hebben, en een album die het gros van de concurrentie met gemak achter zich laat. Met dit album heeft de band zich in één klap aan de top van het genre geplaatst, en hopelijk krijgt men eindelijk de welverdiende erkenning. Ondergetekende ging een gesprek aan met gitarist Ronny Van der Wey, waarin het verleden, het uitblijven van erkenning en uiteraard het een en ander over de nieuwe plaat en de toekomstplannen uitgebreid aan bod kwamen.

Door: Nima | Archiveer onder speed / thrash metal

First of all, hails and welcome back on the metal front! How does it feel to be back on track and finally releasing a new album?
Thank you very much indeed. But in fact I don’t have the feeling that we are back, because we never have been away. At least, not so far. Okay, there have been times of less activity and presence, but that has been a constant factor in our existence anyway. It find it quite amazing that most people are still enthusiastic about ‘Swine Plague’, so it looks like we haven’t done it all just for ourselves. And maybe it is a proof that when you just maintain in doing your thing, it is appreciated by a certain loyal number of people.

Dead Head was brought to life back in 1989 and you never disbanded or (as far as I know) “officially” went on a hiatus. How do you look back on almost three decades of Dead Head?
Indeed we had some longer periods of absence, due to different circumstances. I think it is a clear motivation that we do live performances or release a new recording only when we feel like it. We are a band that is meant to stay underground. Some time ago we had a chat with old time friends and collegues Bob Bagchus and Eric Daniëls (former Asphyx, now the engine block of the band Soulburn) about being ‘part of the underground’ and some related topics. You may ask yourself if it was a plain choice or just coincidence to never get out of that so called ‘underground’, since it may sound very cool to be in it, but meanwhile everybody rather likes to be in the premier league and make zillions of money with playing in a band. I never slept a second less because of it. Adding to that, I must confess that I have never been someone who does a lot of ‘looking back’….

As said, Dead Head has been around since 1989, but you have never been that active and there has always been a long pause between the albums. There is also an eight-year “break” between the new album its predecessor. What happened after ‘Depression Tank’ that it – again – took you guys such a long time to release a new album?
There was very little happening after the release of ‘Depression Tank’ actually. Bandwise that is. We just focused on other things, but we all stayed involved in Dead Head, only on a very low-profile level. And we got Tom back in the band, after we parted with Ralph de Boer. I think a very important element in this, is that Dead Head does not have a bandleader, or artistic mastermind or something. We exist by the grace of unity. So everything has to be done by the four of us. Therefore it can take an awful lot of time to get things done. But for us it seems the only way. So there could also arise a situation in which a new record can be concipated within a year or so. In other words: we don’t exactly plan that.

Your debut album ‘The Feast Begins At Dawn’ is legendary in my book, and the same goes for ‘Dream Deceiver’. As I mentioned in my review for ‘Swine Plague’ Dead Head has always guaranteed quality, and every one of your records is a proof of that. However, the band is really, really underappreciated, which I have never understood. Why is it in your opinion the reason that Dead Head has somewhat “missed the train” and never got the recognition it deserved? Maybe the long period between the albums?
No, I think it is simply the will of God. In the long term, things could have gone easily in another direction. But I believe that as a human being you can only influence the run of things in a little, relative way. ‘All we are is dust in the wind…’ you probably know that song. I can also refer to the answer about being underground. Besides that I think we haven’t done all things possible as a band united to accomplish more on the promotional level. I am convinced that if you really want to reach your goal and you put enough efforts to it, that you will succeed. Maybe not at first attempt, but finally you will… Within the band we also spoke about ‘eating shit’ concerning accepting the negative aspects of bandlife on the way to final fame. And we did. And I think we have had lots of recognition for the things we did. But still there will always be factors that you cannot control. And then, looking back, it might have not been the most efficient way to start playing non-commercial thrash metal in a period when all trends shifted towards opposite directions. It certainly hasn’t helped….

When we look at ‘Swine Plague’, it has turned out even more aggressive, more wrought-up and more intense than its predecessors. Is there a reason for this aggression, or is it something that just happened?
It is, I can agree with that. ‘Swine Plague’ is not a setback in any case anyway. The reason for this is purely musical, in my opinion. That aggressive energy has been generated by the method of composing the tracks. It ended up in quite an intense style of playing thrash-riffs. In combination with a ultra-stressed, unrelaxed style of drumming, and completed with a tensioned atmosphere in which the vocals have been fitted in. That worked out very well this time. You might see it as an unforced way to push each other to a certain limit. I mean, when I play a crazy, screaming frenzy guitarsolo on the left channel, Robbie does not feel particularly invoked to answer that with a laid back, dorian-scale solo on the lower strings with quarter notes, you know what I mean ? And if he would, it was just to create a strange tension or contradiction within the song. Another point is that we have come to the awareness that as a band we have to do the things we are good at. And that is not writing slow songs with overthought and melodic vocal lines in it…

Another thing I pointed out in my review is that the vibe sometimes reminds of that of the first album, and the general traditional thrash vibe of the record. It sounds as if you have reinvented yourselves and, more importantly, have something to prove; and that it that the band is more than alive and kicking! Your opinion please…
I explained some of this in the previous answer. Mainly it is a matter of pushing one another. There was not directly the intention to make a ‘super aggressive’ record to show ‘the people’ that Dead Head is still very mean & evil, and that we surely don’t reach fifty. We just let ourselves go, without having the pretention to make something that is bigger than ourselves. But I might also state that, after playing our instruments for over 30 years, we have learned something in the field of songwriting and arranging songs. The sheer roughness and unrelaxed style of playing the instruments is a element apart from that. I can tell you that we have to slow down continuously, and keep eye on the pace most of the time. Otherwise it would all end up in a chaotic maelstrom.

How much pressure was there when creating the new material? I mean, your last album is eight years old, and when you’re off the market for such a long time – especially nowadays with the flood of new bands and new releases – it’s not unheard of that even a veteran band like Dead Head will be forgotten about…
There was exactly ZERO pressure. We barf up the new material when there is a need or urge for it. And when the process starts to flow, there is usually coming up a stream of yeasting ideas and semi-finished guitar riffs that slowly starts to form the hideous contours of what is going to be the next recording. During the writing and recording we never had concerns about how people would react to the new songs. As I said we did realize this time that we’d better played thrash in the vein that suited us most. So leave off the tricky melodic lines, midtempo power riffs or trendy two-chord drones, but just step on the gas and go.

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You have been in the business for a long time now, and needless to say that the scene has changed quite a bit since 1989. What are the greatest differences – except for the technology of course – between the scene then and now?
That is a very social question, I find. And I mean ‘social’ in the sense of the how young people behave and feel these days. Back then I was 22, and we just came out of the Cold War. No internet. So no Instagram. Afraid of the future. (Death Valley days, straight ahead…..). Now I am 48, Islamic terrorism lurking around. Society transcending into a schizoid pseudo cyberworld, slightly exaggerated. You know me. But in fact I think I have a very shallow view of the scene that happens right now. Or the last twenty years in fact. I mean I cannot really connect to the universal idea behind it all. In 1990 we all just wanted to be the most evil & doomy bastard, have a nice time, and become the sleaziest band I the world. Our slogan (of course stolen) in those days was ‘Fuck disco-fuck fashion-fuck you’. A little hardcore punky, I admit, but still a nice one-liner though. But still I experience a different world. I have changed, the scene has changed, and my perception has changed. A nice consolation is that there is enough musical talent, energy and quality out there to secure a decent future for metal as a style. Unfortunately I do not see an inventive wave that stands out at this very moment. It could be that I just do not see it, or that it’s just not the time for it.

In how far has your vision and attitude changed when you look at yourselves and the band now as back when you started?
I think it has changed for 180 degrees. But the essence remains the same. How is that? Well, it is just a matter of seeing things in perspective, and being able to adjust a healthy amount of relativity towards the whole situation. But my vision or attitude does not change the actual situation we live in. You see, I play in a thrash metalband. Schnellmetalgruppe. So that is speedy, sleazy, sweaty & loud. You cannot change that.

’Swine Plague’ will definitely put the band back in the picture and as I mentioned in my review you have definitely surpassed the recent works by giants such as Kreator, Destruction and Slayer. But do you think that nowadays you have to work even harder in order to maintain your reputation and your position within the scene?
You certainly have to work harder. Competition has become immense. Simply because there are far more good bands with very large potential and means of high standard. But that is a good thing. Only the real ones will survive. The playfield has become stronger and denser populated. In the old days you thought you were someone if you could play the intro solo of ‘Fade To Black’. Nowadays every 14-year old schoolboy does the entire Malmsteen catalogue with one hand (and the other on the iPhone filming it for Insta or YouTube of course…).

As far as I could see you only have one gig planned in September, which is also the album release show. Are there any plans to do more gigs this year in order to promote the album and put the band back in the picture?
My agenda says we have a gig at Stonehenge on July 29th. But of course the recent development concerning our live activities and happenings will be revealed at the internet at any time. Just Google on ‘Dead Head’, or ‘Deadhead’ etcetera…..Anyway, there will be more live performances…. It is kind of a ‘running gig’. Dates will be added, (and maybe deleted) in the run of time. It is all a matter of coincidence, the right connections, and bribe….

By the way, the album has been released last month. Why doing the release show almost three months after the release?
Because I see no actual reason why we should not….. And mainly the new season (after the summer period) starts in September. So then people might be familiar with the new songs, and then it is more fun to see those numbers being played live, I suppose. I find release shows bullshit anyway, but that is because I just like to have an opposite opinion. My shrink knows about that.

Speaking of gigs, it is however no secret that it’s not so easy to get a decent gig nowadays for underground band. How is the situation regarding shows for a veteran band like Dead Head? Both nationally and internationally.
My experience is that when you have a certain ‘name’ or reputation, it is quite easy to play interesting gigs, the bigger clubs or the higher level supporting / opening gigs. And we thankfully take profit of that fact. On the other hand, when your reputation as a band is not well known, or your band hasn’t still had the change to build up a history, I know it can be much more difficult. So in that case you have to work your bloody ass off…. That is the only way to do it. I am convinced that when a band really wants to become a known act with a decent live reputation (assuming they possess the intrinsic qualities and musical craftsmanship) they can succeed in nowadays showbiz. If you have the will and the abilities combined with a certain quality that makes you different, then there is a place on any stage.

Your first two albums are not easy to come by nowadays. With ‘Swine Plague’ out and kicking – and the current popularity of the old stuff in general – I can imagine the interest in the older records will grow as well. Are there any plans to re-release those records at any time? And let’s be honest, I think ‘The Feast…’ could use a bit of sonic makeover…
Well, that is going to be settled, don not worry on that. The industrial & commercial organisations en mechanisations are evolving on this matter at this very moment. There will also be a remix / remaster (you might even call it a 2.0 version) of 'The Feast' released, when the technical and legal difficulties on that issue have been overthrown. I estimate the release date will be end 2017/begin 2018. Some other releases will be even available on the mighty vinyl. So if you are interested, I advise to regularly check the site of Hammerheart Records, our record company.

To make it fast with one last question, what can we expect from Dead Head in the near future?
I think it is possible that there will be a new record released. I personally hope that there will be an opportunity to do something that takes us a step further, in the context of musical development. In a natural, organic way. We also have played with the idea to make something totally digital. Spacey, realistic as well as ethereal, but devastating in a scientific way. No blurry noise, but clean and precise as a surgical steel.

Well then, I guess we can call it a day for now. Unless of course there is something left that you’d like to mention…
I would call it a night, thank you. Since it is 3 AM for me now. I have nothing left to say. I find it very difficult to express myself in speech. So I became a musician, therefore I could express myself through the music…..Ahum.

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