Black Spiders are one the most hotly hyped hard rock bands of the last few years. Having earned a formidable reputation with a string of high intensity live shows they finally broke out in 2010, stealing the show at Sonisphere Festival.
Since then they’ve been tipped by every major publication and their debut album, Sons Of The North, was released to rave reviews; drawing plaudits from the BBC, Rock Sound and even former Guns And Roses bassist Duff McKeegan in the process. Today we catch up with Spiders’ axe men Ozzy “Owl” Lister and Mark “The Dark Shark” Thomas for an exclusive interview.
In the build up to the release of your debut album you released a series of stylistically varied EPs and there was a lot of speculation over what “the Black Spiders sound” would be. Sons Of The North ended up being a really focused and coherent record; how did you find your sound and direction?
Ozzy: Matt Elliss (who Co-Produced and Engineered everything we've done so far) helped a lot with this as we were recording. There were lots of arguments about they way things should be on the record right up to the end so I guess you could say it was a natural progression. I would say it's really difficult and pretty dangerous to define a sound for your band before you've done anything without coming across as contrived and that's something we'd like to avoid.
Mark: The direction has always been there but maybe on the album we spent a bit more time working on sounds that had their own space. Having 3 guitarists we've always been conscious of 'cluttering' the precious building blocks of raw rock n' roll.
Your sound definitely has an old school feel, you can hear the likes of Zeppelin, Sabbath and AC/DC in your music. As a guitarist how do you feel about these comparisons and given your band’s retro-tinged style do you think you can still contribute something new to guitar playing and rock music?
Ozzy: I love all of the comparisons to those bands because they are bands I love and that have obviously inspired me a lot.
Mark: We've all grown up listening to these bands and we've all been on our own personal journeys exploring different avenues of music. Black Spiders is about throwing all that away! It's about how it feels in the heart, not the brain. When people look back on the Great Rock Era, they'll include Guns & Roses with Zeppelin even though they happened almost 20 years apart. We're hoping that our contribution will be included in this category rather than any new genre that the music press are currently punting.
The critics and the BBC seem intent on pigeon holing you as a heavy drinking cheap thrills band; are you happy with that image and is that what you were going for?
Mark: I'm not particular happy or unhappy with it, but it's quite inaccurate. We may have been spotted out and about loaded on booze but it's not what this band is about. We give 100% at our shows and that's difficult to do when smashed. The critics seem to want this image more than we do.
Ozzy: We never went for an image. We just try to be who we are and you can't control what people think and therefore write about you.
Tell us a little about your creative process. How do you go about making music; is it collaborative exchange, is there an artistic dictator, or is it honed on the road?
Mark: The majority of our songs are written in the rehearsal room as a collaborative, usually evolving from a riff or bass line. My guitar solos are usually a mixture of improvisation and bits that I've remembered from rehearsals - we'll quite often chop the interesting bits together in the recording process.
Ozzy: It depends, some songs have been written by one person and others are all of us banging through ideas and shouting at each other. We can be too anal about things and kill ideas by going over and over them but I think it's important to push ideas as far as they can go to get the best out of them. Playing songs live is the best way to hone a song though, if it doesn't work it's very obvious at a gig.
Much has been made of your independent approach to promotion. Your Album and EPs were self released and you worked your way up with lots of small-scale gigs. Given how much hype and excitement has surrounded Black Spiders over the last year you must have had offers from major labels. There have been a lot of rumours about your approach; some say you’re committed to “the underground scene”, others have said you lack ambition, some say it’s about control. We were hoping you’d help us get to the bottom of all this, what’s the deal?
Ozzy: We self release our stuff because that's the only way for us to do it right now, it's not because we want to be linked to any DIY ideal or trend. If a major label made us the right offer we'd bite their hand off, but with the way the industry is right now labels are either too scared to put money in to back bands properly or just think we're too old. To anyone who says we lack ambition I say fuck you, this has always been what we want to do, and we're making it happen anyway we can.
Mark: It's certainly not lack of ambition or a miss-guided commitment to being underground. We can't give away everything in return for nothing, as some labels seem to expect these days
I managed to catch your show at last year’s Sonisphere Festival and you put on one of the most talked about sets of the weekend. This year you’re taking a high profile slot on The Metal Hammer stage at High Voltage Festival.
How do festival performances compare to your own gigs, and how do you feel about playing to some Dream Theatre fans this summer?
Ozzy: Festivals always worry me, I wasn't sure that what we do would translate to that type of setting, but we treat every gig the same and play hard whether it's 4 people or 4000. So far it seems to have worked for us. Dream Theatre aren't really my bag but I can appreciate what they do, maybe their fans can do the same for us?
News just came in that record sales are down by a fifth this year. It seems to be getting harder and harder for new hard rock artists to reach the top. People have been talking about the decline of rock and guitar music as a part of popular culture. What’s it like to be a new band today and what do think of the state of guitar music in 2011?
Ozzy: It’s harder to make it to megastardem these days, in fact I think the days of rock stars living in mansions and driving sports cars is in the past, the more people I meet in bands today the more people I know who are skint.
Mark: I think we're starting to see the effect that illegal downloading/file sharing will have on music. It's bands at our level that rely on every sale to see us through the next month that will be hit hardest. Basically if you like a band then you have to buy their records/tickets/t-shirts or they won't be around too long – it's that simple. I can't see the situation getting any better so it's up to the bands to find other ways of bringing home some bacon – just don't complain when gig ticket prices go through the roof!
Tell us about the guitar(s) you're currently using, what makes it (them) work for you?
Ozzy: My main guitar is a 1981 Gibson SG Standard. I bought it because it was white (well whitish) and luckily it turned out to play and sound really good. It sounds like no other SG I've played, it's quite dull and the lack of treble really works for me.
I also have a fairly new Hagstrom Swede which I use as a spare. It's a cool guitar and was very cheap, I just had to put a new pick up in and rewire it. It has a cool tone switch which makes it sound like you're playing through a cocked wah wah but I haven't used it for anything yet.
Mark: I currently use a Gordon Smith from the early 80s. It's a well made, solid chunk of heavy mahogany that you don't really feel in many modern guitars. I tried many different pickups in it before I was happy. I don't really get on with the modern Gordon Smiths, so there's no brand loyalty - I'm more loyal to guitars of the late 70s early 80s.
Tell Us About Your Pick-Ups?
Mark: I use a hot PAF hand-wound by Bulldog pickups in Yorkshire. It's got a vintage PAF vibe to it but with a bit more bottom end definition for detuned strings.
Ozzy: They're stock in my SG. The Hagstrom has a Picktish (?) pick-up in it which is hand wowed in Scotland I think.
Black Spiders are famous for hard hitting big riffs rock band, but do you ever experiment around with pedals, technology or tonal variation?
Ozzy: I have a few pedals but only use them on small parts in songs. I love my delay pedal and probably have too many fuzz pedals; I'm sure people can't hear the difference but I can. I think effects should be used sparingly and although I've got nothing against new technology I tend to go for older stuff, for example I'd go for an analogue delay over a digital one every time. My main sound is my amp though which just has one setting, if I want to clean things up I use the volume on my guitar, I hate amps with loads of bells and whistles.
Mark: I'm a fan of analogue type effects as they sound so much fuller and purer than digital copies. Although if it sounds good, use it! There's definitely digital effects that made it onto the album.
Tell us about your favourite bit of musical gear in your collection and what’s the latest addition you’ve made?
Mark: That would have to be my amp which is a clone of a Trainwreck Express. It was made by a guy called Ron Worley in Texas using many parts that were used in real Trainwrecks. It sounds like a suped-up, old school Marshall but cleans up really well with the volume control. I recently chanced upon a Yamaha SuperFlighter1000 guitar from 1980, a quality vintage Japanese guitar - the place to be looking for decent priced vintage guitars.
Ozzy: My amp is my favourite bit of gear; it's a Custom Matamp GTL. I will (and have) bored anyone who'll listen to me talk about the thing. The newest addition I have is a clone of a Fulltone Ultimate Octave that I built.
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