Tuesday, 13 October 2015

An Interview with Mark Greening (With The Dead)

It is 7:45 pm on a Thursday evening and I am uncharacteristically nursing a glass of red wine as well as my mobile phone. I am gazing into the abyss, and have been for about ten minutes. An outsider looking in might think I've been stood up by a date and am currently in the planning stages of an elaborate masturbation ritual designed to tide me over, but this is not the case, tonight. In fifteen minutes I'll be on the phone with a man who has written some of the most titanic metal records of all time, and who is a little over a week away from unleashing yet another of his sinister creations on this poor, blameless planet.

If you aren't already in the know, Mark Greening has played an integral part in establishing the now-worldwide scene for doom metal, written and recorded some of its cornerstone albums, and has toured extensively with the créme de la créme of monolithic shit. If your favourite heavy band are truly heavy, it is because they have studied and mimicked the work he and Tim Bagshaw have left behind. Be it with Electric Wizard, Ramesses, or 11 Paranoias, Greening's lurching, crypt-dwelling percussion has been a highlight. Now returning alongside Tim Bagshaw and the legendary Lee Dorrian (Cathedral, Napalm Death, do I need to?) as With The Dead, Greening assures us that his latest offering is the stuff of nightmares, and you can believe that.

How have you been lately, man? Besides all of the current band-related carry-on.

I've not been too bad to be honest. Obviously I've been recording with my new band, With The Dead, but apart from that I really haven't done a lot of drumming. I mean, after everything went tits up with Electric Wizard, I've just been having a bit of time off playing. We recorded the With The Dead album and Tim (Bagshaw) and I jammed quite a bit, but because Tim lives over in the States, aside from the rehearsing and recording, I just haven't drummed much lately. I'm probably a bit rusty at the moment, but hopefully soon I'll get back to it. I've just been chilling out, riding my motorbike, listening to music, and work and stuff. Just the usual stuff, really. Nothing too eventful.

Do you get very much time to chill out? Especially after what happened with Electric Wizard. Did that whole thing put you off, or are you just taking this time to yourself?

I was put off a bit. It was a nightmare, the whole situation. I was so over the moon to be back with Electric Wizard, and it completely went pear-shaped. It just went wrong, really, - the outcome of the ‘Time To Die’ album and not being paid was very disappointing. It's still an ongoing process, all of that. It didn't put me off for good, but it did knock me back a bit. When you're younger and making music, everything is fun, nobody has an ego, and you're not worrying too much about getting paid or whatever, you’re just enjoying it. Drumming, for me, is a way of getting aggression out, but unfortunately it happened and there wasn't a lot I could do about it, really.

Well, I mean, you're bouncing back right now with With The Dead, and Halloween seems like the perfect time for a new record. Can you tell us a little bit about how With The Dead decided to get together?

Basically it happened pretty much around this time last year. I got the boot from Electric Wizard and everything sort of went to shit. I'd always been best mates with Tim and when he lived in this country, we always used to have a jam together in his bedroom. Not with a full drum kit, but with keyboards, bass, guitars, and occasionally I'd do the vocals, and we just had a bit of fun. We always thought it'd be great if we played in a band together. Even though we did Ramesses, we thought it'd be great for just us two to do our own thing, it was something we always wanted to do. When I got the boot from Electric Wizard, I was in contact with Tim about it because I was pretty gutted and it seemed like a good time to finally do something together, but it's a bit difficult with him living in New Jersey.Anyway, I was also in contact with Lee (Dorrian), and he could tell that I was quite upset about the whole Wizard carry-on, and at some point he asked 'what do you want to do?' I said I just want to play drums’ and mentioned that I'd spoken to Tim to see whether he'd be up for something, which Lee thought would be great and, after hearing some demos, offered to fly Tim over for us to record something. So that's what happened.

The original idea was that I'd do the vocals, and we were originally only going to record an EP. We recorded first of all in a studio in Wimborne, but didn’t have much time and had to rush through the songs a little bit. Lee came down to Wimborne, we'd sort of asked him about doing the vocals before, and he was thinking about it, but obviously he's busy running Rise Above, but finally said 'yeah, I'd be up for that.' A few months later, Tim came back out and we went into a studio in London with Lee and we recorded an album and that's it, really. That's how With The Dead got together. It was like it was meant to be, really. Looking back now, if I hadn’t been fired from Electric Wizard, there wouldn't be With The Dead.

That makes sense as well because there's that Cathedral influence on early Electric Wizard, does working with Lee feel like things coming full circle?

Definitely. Lee was there with Electric Wizard from the beginning, in the 90s. I remember going to a studio in Coventry and recording the first Electric Wizard album, and Lee was there then. He supported Electric Wizard right from the start, and in the early days, we'd do the odd gig with Cathedral. It did feel strange, as you say 'full-circle', us together with Lee. When we were first in Electric Wizard, we were signed to Rise Above and Lee was a good mate of ours.

So he's always been present in your camp?

Yeah, pretty much. When Tim and I left Electric Wizard after the ‘Let Us Prey’ album, we sort of lost contact with Lee. Then when I re-joined Wizard to record ‘Time To Die’, there was a kind of carry-on between Lee and Justin and Liz, I'm still not sure what that was all about, but Lee and Rise Above have always been there for me, and when I got the boot, I asked Lee for help. I don't think he ever thought he'd be doing the vocals in a band with me, but that's how it panned out. He was into the tracks, he wanted to do it, and we wanted him to do it.

You've said before that the new record makes you very proud of it already, but what about With The Dead stands out among the rest of your work?

Just the fact that because when we started out it was just me and Tim in the studio, it didn't feel like we were under any pressure. We knew we wanted to make this heavy record, and we knew we wanted it to be raw and nasty, what nightmares are made of, and because it was just the two of us, it was just laid back and easy to do. There were no egos, no 'you can't do this, you can't do that', it was all straightforward. I think we're all really proud of this record, really, the way it came from an idea to a finished product, it’s a great record. Usually I don't praise my own work (laughs) because I never listen to it, but on this album, the tracks, the structure, the heaviness of it, the rawness of it, everything from the band name to the whole package really. I'm quite proud of it, to be honest.

I can actually hear in your voice how relieved you are to have that kind of freedom.

Yeah, there's just not that much stress over it, it's really easy going. The only downside to it is Tim living in America, but you know, there's planes, so it's not the end of the world. We're all a bit older than we used to be, it's easier to just chill out with it.

And something else as well, sticking to the old school mentality, is that you've given us exactly 1:01 of sample material from the album, which is like dangling a fiver over a pit of crackheads. Was this going against the grain? Where so many bands are allowing people to hear the full thing weeks in advance?

We didn't want to shove it in everyone's face too much, but we wanted a bit of a slow build-up on it, I think. I mean, there was the track, "I Am Your Virus", which was played on a radio show, and then it was on YouTube for a couple of weeks. Then there’s "Living With The Dead" which is going or be premiered on a website tomorrow. Because the album only has six songs on it, we didn't want to put all our eggs in one basket and we wanted to get people interested. You know, you're a long time dead, so we wanted to ease in with the heaviness of it.

Well it's definitely working because there's a lot of people that seem starved at this point. They're ready to hear it.

Well I'm chuffed with some of the reviews we've had, and all the feedback, it's great. Everyone is sort of buzzing off it.

I think it's reinvigorating a lot of people's love of doom, and especially with Rise Above, the whole scene has been pulsating for the last few years and has been influencing people and getting them into things like reading occult texts and stuff. It's become quite a pervasive culture. The whole theme of the occult is something that's followed you around your whole career, is that an interest or mostly something for song writing?

I'm really into my horror films, and I'm also a big fan of ouija boards and stuff. I'm just a fan of things that aren't quite right, other dimensions and stuff. I've never really delved that far into it, I think it's just something that goes with the music and whole doom package. I wouldn't say I fucking do rituals (laughs), yeah I like horror, my ouija boards, and nasty things, but I'm not going to try and speak to the devil.

I actually downloaded a ouija board onto my phone last night. Like an app. I found it weird that they're marketing and mass producing these things.

Yeah, the ouija board has gotten really commercial now. There was a film that came out recently called Ouija, which was a terrible film (momentary audio overload as both of us attempt to express our distaste for the movie at the same time) it's literally the worst film ever, but that is actually where I stole the With The Dead name from. It was from the trailer, which had a voiceover saying the ouija board has been around for centuries and it's used to communicate, and it pauses, then says "…with the dead!", in this over-the-top American accent.

But yeah, the ouija board is everywhere now, really. It's so commercialised. There's kids wearing ouija board t-shirts and stuff. I think when that terrible film came out, one of the number one presents that Christmas was a ouija board. I've had a ouija board tattooed on my back for donkey's years, as long as I can remember. Like you said with that ouija board app, I read something the other day about someone being possessed through a ouija board app on their mobile phone, and I thought 'what the fuck is the world coming to?' You know, playing it on your goddamn phone? Luckily, it seems to have died down now. You know, when horror films come out and kids get into them. They just don't make horror films like ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ anymore. When you look back on those old films you see they're kind of cheesy, but when they came out, there was an impact. New horror films don't really have that impact anymore, all they seem to do now is try to fit in as much gore as they can rather than actually bothering with a story line.

Yeah, there's no memorable characters anymore, no Leatherface.


We're doing a bit of a Halloween thing on the blog at the moment, and it's definitely a cliche to ask at this point, but do you think Halloween has lost its meaning over the years? Do you still enjoy it?

Halloween has never been much of a big deal in England, it’s more of an American thing, which is a shame. Here you just go to a party, get drunk, stumble home, probably fall into a bush dressed a Michael Myers. I still go looking in party shops for little gems and stick masks on my walls, but in America, it seems they go nuts for it. It'd be great to be over there for the things they have in the shops. I'd probably waste a lot of money on junk. I still enjoy it though, no matter how old I get.

I couldn't help but notice the Ramesses Facebook page was updated recently, is there something going on there?

I don't think Ramesses ever really died, I just think it went back into the tomb. It may raise its head one day, it may not. We never sort of really broke up, so maybe.

And now the burning question, are With The Dead planning on hitting the road anytime soon?

I can't really give too much away on that.

I suppose to finish off, is there anything you'd like to say to any of the readers before we go?

Sometimes dead is better. Happy Halloween!

You can buy With The Dead's self-titled album at Rise Above Records from the 16th of October. It is suggested that you do just that.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Glow-Worm: Reality Television And The Paranormal.

The fingers of late capitalism have always sought out the throbbing pulse of American fear, and if a dollar can be made on an old enemy, it will. The Satanic Panic of the 80s wasn't just a call for good, wholesome Christians to be vigilant during a time of heavy metal degeneracy and bullet belts, it was a profitable subject of a number of documentaries and TV specials by the likes of Geraldo and Frontline. When you mix up a cocktail of morally loose goth types with allegations of widespread child abuse, and display it on television sets all across the shivering United States, you're guaranteed big ratings and mouths agape. 

The Satanic Panic went from a god-fearing public response to heavy metal, horror movies, and tabletop gaming to a massive piece of bait on the end of a television executive's fishing rod, and in the end, Satanism, or at least the facade of, became fashionable. Big money had essentially turned an irrational fear into something so tangible that it was capable of burning churches in Norway, for example.

That's the out of control effect that fear and excitement can have when played with by money. It's almost an American tradition to wear your fears on your sleeve and to buy it up like hotcake, and in most cases, this is actually a great thing. Even though the Panic was mostly shameless marketing, it popularized and allowed for further reading and participation in a lot of the fringe literature and art we enjoy today. This is especially true in the case of, and forgive the undetailed/undefined term, the occult.

TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files weren't real enough for casual interests, people wanted to witness the paranormal unfolding before their eyes. They wanted to literally sit in a TV studio and speak to the dead themselves.

Reality television was, if you ask me, the turd that took too long to flush. Its momentous rise began around the same time I became wise to the adult channels. I grew up with it and grew out of it and grew angry with it. Though despite the perseverance of audio/visual baby vomit like Survivor or Paradise Hotel, I will admit that I could hardly tear my young eyes from the complete sensory terror (I was 12) of Most Haunted.

This isn't about disputing the authenticity of these shows, after all. 

The Unexplained began airing in January of 1996 on the Arts & Entertainment network in the US and lasted four seasons before kicking the bucket in May of 2000. The show may have been the first to thoroughly explore the paranormal and occult without the lens of religious bias. The show began at a time when the Satanic Panic had fulfilled its purpose; Marilyn Manson's Smells like Children Tour had ended and Antichrist Superstar was about to debut at no.3 on the Billboard 200. Geraldo Rivera's talk show had begun to change its tune. Teenagers were openly defying their Christian parents with ridiculous sock gloves. It can be fairly guessed that, at this point, curiosity had replaced fear in the Average Joe, and The Unexplained was there to satisfy that demographic with the morbid tales they'd once shuddered through.

Eventually, case studies just weren't inspiring the spooky-wookies anymore, and this is where the "reality" in reality television began to gain weight.

MTV, or ground zero of "reality entertainment", began airing Fear in September 2000. This was a show with a now recognizable but at the time totally cutting-edge format; put cameras on people, send them into a paranormal site. The House on Haunted Hill (1959) starring Vincent Price had now become a "reality", regular people were now being sent to spend the night in real haunted sites for a cash sum, and in its brief two seasons of existence, it became the second most popular show of MTV's regular programming.

The success but sudden withdrawal of MTV's Fear gave space for FOX's Scariest Places on Earth and Living TV's Most Haunted and Most Haunted Live! While the former was based mostly on the format put forward by MTV, Most Haunted went in a different and more occult direction; the stars of the show would actively attempt to communicate with the dead. 

With the occasional and frantic "possession" of medium Derek Acorah, unsettling production effects, and sudden fearful jolts of its stars, Most Haunted courted both ratings and controversy for over a decade and succeeded in blending action with the occult and paranormal, and then delivering it to television screens all over the UK. Soon, shows like Ghost Hunters, Ghostly Encounters, and many, many more, began to spring up and capture audiences all over the west. It may have seemed like this was the post-honeymoon in the relationship between reality TV and the hidden arts, it should have been, but unfortunately it wasn't.

Medium John Edward began filming Crossing Over with John Edward in 1999, and he would go on to ride television's new found niche in occult practice until he had well and truly worn it into the ground. 

Where the haunted house shows had dealt with a mixture of reality and folk tale, John Edward would invite live audiences to experience, and even take part in, psychic phenomena. The voyeurism had been taken out of the experience, real people were putting their hope and trust in Edward's medium powers, and whether you are a skeptic or believer, the turning of profit on human relationships, especially to those of the deceased, was the very spittle on the tongue of talk show exploitation. 

John Edward would go on to become a very controversial and hated figure on American television, and his legacy would open up space for new shows of a similar vein. Perhaps his final moment of relevancy came when Kim Kardashian decided to consult him during the filming of Kourtney and Kim Take New York. That moment of television history can perhaps be seen as the death bed wheezing of paranormal "reality."

Despite Halloween specials and the odd sensationalist tactic, reality TV and the paranormal would never hold an audience quite as they could in the mid-00s. And while all the hoaxes and "possessions" played as much a part in its demise as that of John Edward, reality television brought the occult to a much larger audience who are now either readers, practitioners, or both. Countless websites supply free occult texts, there are Reddit pages dedicated to numerous disciplines, and paranormal vacations (and vacation packages) are now very real. Just as the Panic made vogue the fears of a Satanic planet, reality television played a part in growing our fascination with the frightful unknown.