It’s absolutely no secret that Voices second album London, a concept to our Capital city has completely blown me away. Mixing so much emotion, atmosphere and extremity into its cinematic hour long playing time it’s a real feast and a beast of an album. Naturally I was not going to miss the launch show for it which you can read about in our live section and before it started I got the opportunity to sit down and chat about it all with singer / guitarist Pete Benjamin.
AN: Firstly you seemed to almost come out of nowhere around 2012. You were suddenly playing at the Unicorn to an unsuspecting audience and it was evident that you had spent a fair amount of time crafting your sound and songs. Tell us a bit about how you formed and what the journey was like before you felt you were ready to play live?
PB: Well Me, Dave [Gray Drums] and Sam [Loynes Guitar] wanted to start playing some music together and the idea was to make something really cold. That’s all we wanted, just really cold, horrible music. We started jamming not with any intention at all really, just for a laugh and to hang out and enjoy each other’s company really. Then it went from there and we thought we might as well do a band as we had a few songs, we may as well play and see if we enjoy it and we did.
AN: Obviously you have some ties to the much missed Akercocke, were you concerned that people were going to associate you with them and this was something you were going to be tagged with as you grew in your own right?
PB: Yes we did think about that and weren’t sure whether to mention it or not at the start. I didn’t know if it was a good or a bad thing. Obviously it’s a big name to be associated with in the extreme metal scene and we thought we might as well just say it as some people might be fans of the musicians and might be interested just because of that. Yes and people would have found out anyway so we just decided to say that we were ex members.
AN: What had you been up to since Akercocke disbanded and what made you consider the time was right for Voices? Some of you have been involved in other bands between the two haven’t you?
PB: Everyone’s been playing in different bands really. Dave was playing in My Dying Bride and I have been playing in a band called Shels. We have just been busy with life as well.
AN: It seems that you had very clear ideas in your head on how you wanted the concept of Voices to be perceived, not just about the shows and music itself but the whole visual aspect and aesthetic of the band. Did you have to kind of resist temptation to just get up and play before everything was in place and how long did it take to develop all your ideas?
PB: We are quite strict about what people see of us but that’s only as that’s how we are as artists. We just mainly like black and white stuff, pictures etc. We have loads of ideas that we haven’t even been able to put into fruition yet and are working on them. We have specific ideas as we like to think of ourselves as artists and not just for the music but in art and that’s what we are trying to get across. We have a theme and more of a deep thing going on rather than just playing some riffs.
AN: Obvious question really but what was it about the name Voices, did it just speak to you maybe?
PB: Ha yeah, well we were looking for a name for a long time and it is difficult. We had loads of names and suddenly someone said “Voices” and we all looked up and said “that’s cool,” and that was the one.
AN: I like the way that you have always called your live shows exhibitions it makes things all the more intriguing as well as different from all those calling theirs ‘rituals.’ Where did this idea come from? It gives the impression that you are the exhibit and the patrons are coming to view you like paintings.
PB: Yes that goes back to the artist thing as well as we like to think of it as an exhibition of art because of the emotions. We would get bored if we were just a band of four guys with some nice riffs so we want to make it a bit more experimental in that sense and we want people to think of it as art and not just a band and music. Not in a pretentious way but more in the way of “creativeness” and people seem to like that as well.
AN: You never went down the demo route but simply launched a debut album on us all. Is this all part of you considering that you were fully ready to launch everything at people at once meaning that a demo of a few songs would have kind of ruined the overall impact?
PB: Maybe but in a way we kind of think of the first album as a demo. We just improvised and fixed loads of songs up and weren’t really sure as much of ourselves as we are now obviously with the second album. I think we look at it more of a demo, it’s just an explosion of complete madness.
AN: No mucking about with labels either as you were with Candlelight straight away. Were they an obvious choice and the only label you approached, were there others involved and was perhaps keeping things on a British label important at all?
PB: It didn’t really occur to us to be honest as in reality it doesn’t really matter what label you are with. We are just making music and we know we are not going to make a living from it unless something amazing happens which it probably isn’t going to do as its extreme music. I just saw Darren [Toms label manager] and asked if he wanted to check my band out and he sent me an email saying he wanted to sign the band straight away. So we thought right then, we are not going to lose anything, so that was that.
AN: That first album title ‘From the Human Forest Create a Fugue of Imaginary Rain’ bit of a mouthful, bit of a bold statement and maybe as not easy to remember a bit of a gamble? Any insight into meaning behind it and why you didn’t want to keep things a little simpler?
PB: Ha that was really David’s idea and he sees the human forest as the city and we were kind of inspired by rain as well. He put that all together and, yes you can’t escape the rain and it’s something we all love really. It’s a bit clichéd, some people might think but it just adds to the darkness for us.
AN: Do you think it might have set up a challenge to your label and made October File want to trump it with their next album title not forgetting The Meads Of Asphodel with some of their preposterous song titles.
PB: Oh right, yeah maybe, I don’t know. I do really like naming things, that’s all part of the creative process. We will see what we can come up with on the next album!
AN: That first album though has a very literate feel to it with song titles such as Creating The Museum Of Rape for instance. Is there anything fiction wise that you take inspiration from or is everything more inspired by the hideousness of existence and life perhaps?
PB: Yes well we are massively inspired by movies and books. We are more inspired by them than other bands maybe. There’s a film called The End Of The Affair [1999 Neil Jordan] which the second album is based on loosely. The first album though we were really into a film called Tony London Serial Killer [2009 Gerard Johnson] and that’s about a guy who just can’t connect with reality at all or people or anything. That’s kind of how we were feeling anyway so we just wanted to make something really cold, lonely, horrible and dissonant, so that’s kind of the whole theme.
AN: You obviously went a completely different route title wise with the new album. London, so when did you decide to immerse yourself in all the grime and greyness of our capital city and use it as a muse? I’m not sure but I can’t think of anyone using such an approach before.
PB: We actually wrote our own little monologue as a story, a narrative before we wrote a lot of the music. We put our heads together a thought about what we wanted to write music about and came up with this sort of story in our minds, no one else will ever understand it fully, but it’s about a character who is really lonely.
AN: Is that the Megan character?
PB: No she’s like a prostitute; she’s the one you really want. I think she means something different to all of us, something you really want or something you are really obsessed about.
AN: Everything about the album feels very heartfelt and personal right from the start with ‘Suicide Note.’ Is what we hear partly based on life experiences, fiction or a mixture of both?
PB: Yes I think we have all taken some or a lot of ourselves and all really put a lot into this album. I think maybe in a way with the story it’s just an excuse so we can say that. I think it’s real to be honest.
AN: Vocal wise it’s an album of contrasts from clean fragrant parts to huge beastly extremity, have to ask whether you took any vocal training over the years and maybe even had any experience singing in something of a choral nature in the past?
PB: I’ve never had any vocal training, I have always sung, since I was ten years old, in a normal way, not shouting or metal. I guess I have always had that skill and everyone thought it should be used more because it’s there. With the heavy vocals I have been working with them, trying to find something a bit better than the first album as it was just random for me. I think I’m getting there but every day something new happens. I haven’t done that style of vocals that often to be honest. I’m learning how to control it and that’s quite cool, it was really weird at first as I was doing what I felt, which is embarrassing.
AN: It’s a complete co-ordinated form of schizophrenia musically, much like London; at least that’s how it feels to me. I take it you look at really mixing things up and get the impression you listen and take influence from all sorts of music outside the metal realms, for instance jazz refrains are something I picked up on?
PB: Yeah that’s true, I think we made the album not thinking about metal at all. Obviously we are using metal instruments but we don’t really listen to metal a lot, it’s not everything in our lives because we are grown up [laughs]. There are a lot of influences there, a lot of funky drum beats which I love and Dave is absolutely fantastic at playing. There’s all the syncopation and weird time changes and all that and we listen to a load of jazz, singer song writer music, depressive music, disco, everything right across the board.
AN: Tell us a bit about the bridging story around the songs themselves, there was no credit on the ‘voices’ relating them, can you tell us who was responsible?
PB: That is Dave. It’s based around the story that we wrote together and Dave put it into words. At the end he said, right I’ve got all this and it’s how I want it to fit in. So it’s him and his girlfriend.
AN: You recently did a video for The Fuck Trance, who did you do this with. It really fits in with the dark overall aesthetic of the band?
PB: I think we put that together in about ten minutes; Candlelight wanted us to make something for people to see. We are going to make a proper video soon but this is just like an arty thing to be seen in places like You Tube. We kept it really simple but we get bored of watching videos of just people playing music, just watching a load of brutal guys playing. It’s not really our thing, I would prefer not to be in the video at all really.
AN: I have caught you quite a few times live and have to say that there is a contrast between you on and off the stage and the way you go from a more humble and reserved nature to completely feral and ravenous, gibbering like you are possessed. Is that a fair assessment and does playing your music unleash something within you?
PB: Yeah that is a fair assessment. I’m quite a chilled out guy really. I really don’t like egos, I’m not a fan of that sort of thing and when I see that in people I hate it. When I play though yes it’s like a release, I just get it out and I do look forward to it. If I don’t play for a while I feel weird and it’s a great release. It’s great to see a reaction to it as well, from people who really believe something weird is going on.
AN: Apart from Voices you pop up helping out other bands live from time to time kind of like guitar slingers for hire, willing to step in and stand in at the last minute. What other things apart from Voices are you involved in at the moment?
PB: Well I’m still playing in a band called Shels which is like a post rock band based in California and The UK. We don’t play very often but when we do its loads of fun, there’s seven people in the band. I’m not really doing that much else at the moment. I’m writing some music for myself but I’m always there to fill in for any band, as long as it’s a mate. I just like playing music generally. Yes I did fill in on bass for Adam [Sagir] in Dripback recently.
AN: How would you say you have evolved between albums and what have you learned on the way? Is the journey so far anything like you anticipated?
PB: I think we have evolved in the way that we have thought about ourselves more. The first album was more of an explosion, complete insanity that we had to get out. But we thought a bit more about the second one. We used a click track too and thought about the composition a lot more and it’s been really enjoyable as we did have a vision and I think as much as we could have possibly fulfilled it we have fulfilled it for ourselves. We just wanted to make something we have never heard before.
AN: Obvious question and early days as tonight sees just the launch date for London but where do you take things from here, have you firm ideas for what comes next?
PB: We are looking at getting on some more festivals in Europe possibly and also we are going to keep on writing too, take it to the next level. We can’t go down from here, we need to progress. So the next album will hopefully be more shocking and more weird and more of everything!
(Interview Pete Woods)