Post-Punk Meets Classical – A chat with Paul of Axes/Human Pyramids

Paul Russell (front) and Human Pyramids (Photo credit - John Lynch)

Paul Russell (front) and Human Pyramids
(Photo credit – John Lynch)

You know, when it comes to live music – we’re pretty spoilt for choice here in Manchester. Just this past weekend, on what felt like one of the hottest days of the year, A Carefully Planned Festival returned to Manchester’s hip Northern Quarter for another all day session of booze and rad music. Oh yeah, and PRINCE played two back to back nights at the atrociously named Phones4U Arena. But let’s concentrate on the former. (I’d love to say I interviewed Prince, but I think he might be a bit beneath my standards…Jokes, ‘Raspberry Beret’ is a fucking stormer, wish I’d gone on Friday…)

A Carefully Planned Festival has been going for a few years now (I did a little write-up on it a while back) and this past Saturday at Gulliver’s in the NQ we were treated to performances from the likes of Manchester bad asses Cleft and Bad Grammar, as well as mathy mentalists Axes and joy in human form, the seventeen strong (and sometimes more!) Human Pyramids.

I’ve seen Axes quite a few times and I just love them. During every song, they’re making use of all the space on stage – I don’t think I’ve ever seen them stand still whilst playing. Getting up in each other’s respective grills’ and shouting at each other whilst playing, they are just a phenomenal live act. It helps that the music is fucking insane too – Incredibly tight four minute spasmodic masterpieces, the Axes lot always look like they’re having the best time on stage.

Paul Russell, one of the guitar wizards in Axes, is also the man behind Human Pyramids – described on the bands Facebook as ‘A triumph of neo-classical arrangement, a world in which jubilant choir-led chamber music and post-punk meet head on to form a place where anything is possible‘ It’s pretty special, why not take a look?

He’s also a bloody nice bloke. Moments after Axes belting set at A Carefully Planned Festival, (photos of said set can be found on the Birthday Cake for Breakfast Facebook page!) I had a chat with multi-instrumentalist Paul to gush over Axes and get the low down on Human Pyramids. He’s certainly no stranger to the Carefully Planned all day festivals, having played up this way with both bands on numerous occasions, “It’s kind of for us the most important thing in the UK, Carefully Planned. We play a lot of shows in London, and there’s not really an equivalent to Carefully Planned anywhere that we’ve found in the world. Every year his (Matthew Boycott-Garnett – Organiser) festivals are totally rammed. The tickets are cheap, the bands are amazing. I love it, I love Carefully Planned.”


During the set, Paul asked the crowd if it would be OK if they played a new song – I think I saw a guys head explode through sheer joy, but I can’t be sure. As ever, they were storming live, everyone was loving it, and the new stuff sounded excellent. “It was really good. We’re in a bit of a mad situation, at the moment we’re touring with Human Pyramids and we’re all rushing around trying to do a million things, so we got in about 5 minutes before we were due to play, but it was great. Great fun. Really nice to smack out some new tunes. We’re recording in a week so it’s good to try some new songs out.”

With there being talk of new songs, it was inevitable that a follow up to their first full length would come up in our conversation. Thankfully, Paul was able to deliver some good news (he also said the word ‘October’ over and over again) “There is an Axes 2 coming out, it should be out in October. We’re going in to record in a week; ten songs. We reckon it’ll be out in October. We’re talking about October the 27th, that’s a date that we’re talking about, it should be around then.”

So what can people expect from the new record? Discussing the band’s previous releases, “We did like a 7 inch, and then we did one song, and then we added a few more. It wasn’t like a traditional ‘we’re going into a studio to record an album’ it was more like ‘here’s lots of bits that we’ve done, we’ve stuck together and it’s fine’ whereas this one is like, we’re writing a record – like an album – an we’re structuring it, and we’re thinking ‘how’s this gonna sound? Is it gonna sound exhausting to listen to?’ Thinking about the order, thinking about what we wanna achieve with it, being a bit more – I don’t wanna say grown up – but a bit more considered with how it shapes and the sounds that we’re using and the styles that we’re using.”

The band have grown then? “Yeah, It sounds a bit wanky doesn’t it? Bands get to the stage in their life and they grow a bit (laughs) we’re growing.”

Away from Axes (though, to be fair – the other band members are still a big part of it), Paul also finds time to record with his other project Human Pyramids. Very similar Axes and yet completely different, it all started with an acoustic guitar. “An album got released just a few months ago, which is something that I’ve been working on by myself for a couple of years, which is – It just started with me and an acoustic guitar, and I wanted to make an album that was free of the constraints of a band, so I recorded with an acoustic guitar and like ‘what would it sound like with a brass section on it? and then a string section.’ It was never planned to be a live thing at all, it was more like a recording project. I sent it to Matt, who runs Carefully Planned, and he was like “I wanna book it – I wanna do it at Carefully Planned (the last Carefully Planned that we played last at)” and so we went through the logistics of making it work on a stage, which includes seventeen people and a large choir (laughs) so it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare. This is our fifth gig, and we’re back in Manchester again which is great.”


Further on the subject of the logistics of getting that many people, as well as all their instruments, on to the tiny Gulliver’s stage “It’s absolutely horrific. It’s one of those things where you do a couple of gigs and then you go ‘I don’t want to do this again for a long time’…We’ve played five concerts, and I was talking to my girlfriend about this today – in those five concerts, I’ve used about 300 different people, including choir members, so every single gig it’s different people. So…what you need to do is every gig you do a sound check, and then you go into a rehearsal room and then you come back and do a gig. So the days are long, and the logistics are insane. I’ve got a pool of about thirty string players, and about forty brass players, and every time it’s like ‘ I can do this gig, I can’t do that gig.’ It’s a nightmare, but it feels good when it all works.”

The month of April saw the release of Human Pyramids debut album ‘Planet Shhh!‘, a lovely record. “…I find it very hard to describe the music, but I would say it’s taking the beauty and majesty of classical music, but the urgency of punk rock. For me, punk rock is my first love. Somebody said to me it sounds like a punk pop band with strings, which I just loved. It’s from a punk rock background, but the instrumentation is classical.”

With fingers in two equally delicious pies, it seems a touch obvious to try and find similarities between the two and they really are just two radically different bands “It’s just two completely different things – Human Pyramids is very much a side project, that isn’t full time, whereas Axes is a full time thing. Human Pyramids is very much gig specific, so we’ll do a gig every six months and then that will take a long time to organise. On a day to day it’s not as involved as Axes, but I love them both equally, they’re both great.”

You can listen to the full interview below – There’s about a minute of us discussing what makes a woman handsome and telling Paul how good looking they are as a band. You might be able to tell from the slurred words that I’d had a few beers…


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