(Photo Credit: Matt Martin)
It’s apt that on their second album, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – the riff-hungry, ear-piercingly-loud Newcastle based doom outfit – recorded in the presence of actual pigs. Wild boar in fact, that – along with deer – surrounded the converted farmhouse in the Italian countryside where the band spent a week writing, recording and living in fear of being eaten alive by boars.
“Totally spooked Chris…” Chuckles Matt Baty, vocalist and synth player in the five-strong Pigs’, recounting the brush with death experienced by bassist John-Michael Hedley and drummer Chris Morley. “Chris was stood outside, smoking, and he comes charging through – I think he locked Johnny outside in panic. Ran in – ‘There’s a bear, there’s a bear outside!’ Johnny was banging on the door to try and get in…”
Baty tells me this with a laugh from the safety and comfort of the backstage area at BBC Radio 6 Music Festival, many miles away from muddy fields and ‘bears’ on the loose. Whilst outside in the hallway Aussie artist Julia Jacklin peruses the fruit bowl and hip-hop royalty Chali 2na helps himself to a complimentary coffee, we’re sat inside a curtained off area as Baty tells me all about their Italian break putting together ‘King of Cowards’.
“…It’s quite cliché saying we went away, that’s where we wrote our album…” He says. “The Italy thing, we had a few dates get cancelled on a European tour, so we had like a four or five day gap. So it was either cancel the whole tour, which would’ve been a shame, or find something else to do. So that was our something else to do and it was really beneficial.”
With the Airbnb booking suggesting that the converted farmhouse was perfect for parties, with nothing for miles around, the band reached out with what they were planning to do – “Play really loud music”.
“It gave us the opportunity to get up in the morning, have a good breakfast and then work solidly for like seven hours.” Says Baty. “Then just have a few beers, unwind in the evening, listen to some of the recordings that we’d done, think about what we’d do the next day, what we’d do differently and then do it again. When you put that into context of rehearsal times – we’ve all got day jobs – so we go and rehearse on an evening after we’ve been at work, sometimes some of us are flagging a bit, which is understandable. We’ll do a couple of hours at a time. But to have the space and time to be able to do seven hours a day solidly, feeling quite fresh and just focusing on the music. It was very valuable.”
Valuable indeed – Stock is undoubtedly high off the back of their latest release, one which has been championed by BBC Radio 6 Music (of course) and has seen them have to re-issue the vinyl again and again, consulting the colour chart as they go for new colour variants (current pre-order: ‘Gold with Greed’). At the time of writing, they’ve just released ‘Sweet Relief’ – a 7% Grape Soda IPA – the first in a series of beers with Leeds based brewery Northern Monk. Their UK tour this Spring saw the majority of venues sell out, with the coming months set to see them performing at a variety of choice festivals (including Green Man, End Of The Road and our home from home, ArcTanGent).
“…To me it kind of goes to show that there’s a wider audience for the kind of thing that we do.” Says Baty, describing the reaction to the album and everything of late as so exciting and heart-warming for the band.
“The kind of thing that we do, quite often it gets tucked away in sort of specialist radio shows and specialist journalism, which is – that’s great stuff and they’re places I go to discover music, that’s cool and I love them and I appreciate them very much. It kind of goes to show to me that if you put music like ours in front of a wider audience, there’s a part of that wider audience that get into it and surprise themselves as well.”
“We’ve come from a very, very fertile breeding ground in the UK and also mainland Europe of noise-rock and psychedelic rock, the heavier spectrum of the psychedelic world. We’ve been touring those circuits for five or six years now and there’s some absolutely mind-blowing music coming out of that scene at the moment, it’s so, so healthy. I feel very fortunate that we are a band that exist amongst that as well – and also a bit outside that – I like to think that there’ll be some people that listen to our music that might go on to discover other bands that we’ve gigged with over the past four or five years as well.”
Both ‘King of Cowards’ and debut ‘Feed The Rats’ were released through noisy label Rocket Recordings, pushing a roster of cult favourites including the likes of Hey Colossus, Russian outfit Gnoomes and mysterious psych rockers GOAT. Very much a tastemaker label, celebrating artists deserving of a following, they’re people who Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs are very fond of.
“Rocket are, for me, the best at what they do in terms of that world of music. They’re amazing.” He says. “When we formed the band, they were our dream label. This was about six years ago. We sent them – bit naïve – but we sent them a demo recording we did.” He smiles and mimics with a laugh. ”We like it, but you know – we’re quite busy at the moment.”
The roots of Rocket Recordings run deeper still in Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs folklore, with their first ever foray into live performance coming via the label, the band supporting GOAT on one of their first UK outings over here – “…right before they totally blew up.”
Initially coming over to play – you guessed it – the Capital, they managed to squeeze in one more show. Newcastle. Having picked up one of their first 7 inch singles, word got round to bassist Johnny who wound up putting them on.
“…That was our first ever gig.” Says Baty. “It’s almost like, in a way, the planets started to align at that point, I suppose.”
Relentless gigging followed, Pigs’ sharing stages with the likes of The Cosmic Dead and Luminous Bodies and making appearances at festivals throughout Europe. From there it was off to ‘Feed The Rats’, their three track, 36 minute opus. Released in January of 2017, it was one we called “Unapologetic, relentless and properly face melting” at the time – our initial discovery not one we found in a 2+ minute Soundcloud link, rather a brace yourself for a 15+ minute ear-battering (“Get a brew…” says Baty with a laugh).
On ‘King of Cowards’, track length is a notable change, the follow up featuring a few shorter, more concise tracks tucked in amongst the 7+ minute mind-expanders. Whereas ‘Feed The Rats’ shortest song runs to just over four minutes, it’s sandwiched between ‘Psychopomp’ and ‘Icon’, both clocking in at half an hour together. Whilst not a conscious decision to have shorter tracks peppered throughout the new album, it did come from a place of growth, as Baty explains.
“The way we wrote the album’s was very, very different…” He says, thinking back to the birth of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. “We started the band and then we were like – right, let’s do some gigs. We hardly had anything, we had about 10 or 15 minutes, so we’d just go on stage and go BA BA BA BA BA BANG for like 15 minutes, then just walk off stage. We had promoters coming up to us like – Are you finished?” He Laughs.
Having confused promoters for long enough, the band got it together to make their live set longer, adding bits here, wigging out there – developing upon their performance rather than thinking about putting together material for an album, unintentionally creating its initial three tracks.
“So that’s where ‘Feed The Rats’ was born and that’s why there are a couple of really long chunks on there, because that’s what we were playing live and that’s how we were playing it live.” Says Baty. “Whereas ‘King of Cowards’, we had the ‘Feed The Rats’ live set, so it afforded us a bit more space to experiment with things. The way we do it live, we still do have big long sections – we’ll elongate things from certain tracks on ‘King of Cowards’.”
“It’s not hindered us in any way having shorter songs, in fact there’s part of me that really likes having a couple of short songs, ‘cus you can really just bang into them and bang straight out of them.” He continues. “You’re not thinking – Woah, we’ve got this seven minute jam section coming up at the end of this, I need to catch my breath! I quite like the intensity of just going in and out sometimes, but there’s a real joy in also just letting loose and going with it, seeing where the song will take you on a particular night. That’s good too.”
In terms of letting loose and going with the flow, this is something that’s come up not just in a live setting but in the writing process too. Getting out of his comfort zone, Baty tells me this is the first band he’s ever been in where he’s the one coming up with the lyrics (“I’m actually a drummer.” He laughs), something that’s still quite alien to him.
“Of course there are things in life that I find absurd and I wanna get off my chest, but when it actually comes down to writing things down to communicate them, I find that quite hard and I find it quite hard in my day to day life, to kind of express my emotions, which I think is sad.” Says Baty. “But music and especially this band give me a way to do that. The way the lyrics are formed, it’s almost like a subconscious thing. I’ll largely put lyrics together whilst the guys are playing very, very loudly and I’ll scream and shout alongside that. Once you do that so many times, rhythms start to form, words start to fall out your mouth and you just start to write those down.”
“Although saying that, I must say that we’ve written a new song and it’s the first time I’ve ever kind of sat down and gone – actually, I’ve got an idea for what I want these lyrics to be about.” Continues Baty. “That was a new process to me but I thought to myself, just because I find doing that difficult, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Maybe I should challenge this and find a way to write lyrics that way. I suppose it kind of broadens my horizons a little bit, it gives me new skills and ways to form ideas.”
Later on that afternoon, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs would take to the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival stage (enthusiastically introduced by 6 Music DJ Tom Robinson) for a near-deafening performance – One which word has it required the broadcast to be to reconfigured as it was far too loud! Completely captivating, standing up front on vocals, he looks like he’s conjuring up evil spirits through his theatrics, locking in with the other four on stage in unleashing a pulverising set.
“It feels to me that on stage, between the five of us, there’s a very delicate eco-system.” Comments Baty. “Music – this is such a cliché thing to say – music is a form of communication for me and everyone else in the band as well. You can do things sometimes live where it almost feels like slightly telepathic. I’ve not really worked out exactly what that is, but maybe it’s best not to work it out – just kind of trust it. It’s almost like you’re putting your trust into something that’s not tangible at all and just going with it, just seeing what happens. Usually what happens to me feels very, very nice.” He laughs.
This very nice feeling is shared on and off stage, translating between audience and band – regardless of burst ear drums or shattered teeth (I particularly liked the chap in front of me thoroughly enjoying himself, but with fingers firmly in his ears). Whilst the feeling on stage can sometimes be locked into just its five members, the trotter is extended more and more to those who’ve paid for a ticket. There’s patter too – Baty on stage describing their inclusion at the festival as making them feel like “legitimate pop stars”, joining such contemporaries as “Bomfunk MC’s”.
“The first few gigs we did, I spent most of my time with my back to the audience, then I kind of worked out – nobody goes to gigs to listen to music to have a bad time. Everyone’s there to have a good time. Nobody goes hoping a band is gonna have a terrible performance. Although… Maybe there are people like that? Very odd way to spend your money…” Comments Baty with a smile. “As soon as I worked that out – everyone’s here to have a good time – it made things a lot easier. It’s very much a two way process.”
With ‘King of Cowards’ a few months away from celebrating a year of life (and having nearly ticked off each colour of the rainbow in vinyl variants), talk turns to the idea of new material.
“We’ve got one new song that we’re playing live at the moment.” Says Baty, though in the same breath doubtful that they’ll be able to fit it into their short afternoon set. It has been unearthed in a live setting prior, however – something he tells me the whole band have been feeling good about.
“It’s always really nice to play new stuff live.” He says. “I know ‘King of Cowards’ is very new to a lot of people, but some of those songs we’ve been playing for a while, so that’s always really exciting. We are putting things together for a new album, we’ve got a few very solid ideas I think. Just need the bolts tightening and some words as well…” He laughs. “Which are usually the last thing to come together. We’re aiming for early next year, maybe about Spring time.”
With new works to look forward to, we floated the idea of returning to the converted farmhouse in the spacious Italian countryside, cosying up with the wild boar. Time to book a new European tour and hope the dates fall through? Baty nods and says with a laugh.
“We’re cancelling stuff left, right and centre.”
King of Cowards – Reviewed here!
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