Stereoboard catches up with one of Britain’s finest bands, Crippled Black Phoenix, speaking to their guitar wielding duo of chief songwriter Justin Greaves and Karl Demata to talk about the band’s ambitions for the future, their expansive sound and life on the road.
So how’s the tour been so far?
Justin Greaves: Better than expected. For this band, we never know what to expect from the UK. Sometimes we’ve expected nothing and it’s been amazing.
Karl Demata: We’re not pushing any new product right now so it’s been quite good. We don’t see England as the place for us really…no radio hits!
Not yet anyway…maybe release ‘Of a Lifetime’, your Journey cover as a single…
KD: They’ll have to cut everything out. They’d get rid of the solo for starters…
JG: There was a radio edit of ‘Rise Up and Fight’ that someone did…it was terrible, I absolutely fucking hated it, nothing to do with us.
KD: It sounded like when your CD player skips.
“I, Vigilante” came out last year, which was a bit of a different record for the band, shorter for starters, how satisfied are you with that record now looking back at it?
JG: I’m satisfied with the job that it’s done. It was more down to circumstance than anything else. It was almost done under duress. We set ourselves a deadline, which inevitably turned out to be pointless anyway. We did it in a much shorter space of time, more as a band. The whole process was different. I do have reservations about it but then I can’t be objective about it myself but I think it’s done a good job.
KD: I think you can hear that it was done in a rush; it is maybe not properly developed…because we were on such a tight schedule. It’s hard to shine a light on every aspect of the band under such a tight schedule. We’re now doing some pre-production for pretty much the first time, for the next record. We’re learning.
JG: The whole pre-production is more important to us now. “I, Vigilante” was the middle point. I think what I thought was rough about that record have worked for it. They like the fact that it’s a bit rough, a bit ‘garage’ like – not garage rock. Somewhere between the double album and “I, Vigilante” is where we’re aiming I guess. Don’t expect an ‘indie/garage’ thing…
I wasn’t actually, but thanks for clarifying…
JG: Haha, maybe that was the wrong choice of words.
The double album before that ended up being somewhat confusing, as it was condensed into one and then uncondensed and so on. Do you think you were being too ambitious maybe?
JG: I see the two albums, “The Resurrectionists” and “Night Raider, forget about “200 Tons of Bad Luck” – that wasn’t our idea. Those two albums were how it turned out and I’ll stand by that. Maybe to my detriment I was a little bit too set on what I wanted. It wasn’t really a band then… I mean, I’ll always stand by it and if it was ambitious I stand by that… there’s nothing wrong with that after all.
So has the songwriting process of the band changed now with the more settled line-up?
JG: I’d say there is the potential of change. There’s definitely more input and more live playing than before. It very much remains to be seen for now. This band is really difficult when it comes to stuff like that now. There are too many people to write in the rehearsal studio. Songs come up, get demo-d and then we rehearse things and then we might leave some of them. For Karl, for instance, he will do his own thing…which is fine because I like what he does but it hasn’t always worked that way and it doesn’t always work that way…. it’s very much a transitional period right now I guess.
Maybe not so much in terms of mood but in terms of musical content, CBP is very much a ‘lighter’ band than previous bands you’ve been involved in…the likes of Electric Wizard and Iron Monkey…have you turned away from heavy music or do you just not want to make it yourself anymore?
JG: Not really. I’ve turned away from some of the stupid attitude of it. I still love a lot of the music, I haven’t heard much good stuff recently but I bet it’s out there.
KD: I’ve known Justin since back in those days. We still jammed then and listened to Americana and stuff, you could already tell that he had his eye on other things. I mean, why confine yourself to one scene or genre?
JG: Karl was involved in heavy bands as well. Karl and I used to play country & blues in pubs while I was still in Electric Wizard. That was out of true love for that kind of music. Being involved with that heavy scene….sadly that scene is very limiting and has its own rules and restrictions…we haven’t changed what we listen to.
KD: You don’t define yourself by listening to one kind of thing you know? I’d probably kill myself if I had to play metal only all my life…it’d be really fucking boring. A lot of people in that scene I know for a fact they listen to loads of stuff outside that scene… they just don’t express it with their own music necessarily.
JG: It’s weird because we sometimes see people from that scene at our gigs and they treat us like their dirty little secret. They wouldn’t tell any of their mates they were going to see us.
How important do you feel playing live is to the band? It’s been somewhat intermittent in terms of touring and so forth…
JG: I think it’s really important but it’s a completely different discipline. I don’t think you should limit yourself in creating an album but obviously we have to work out how to play stuff we write live. In the past we haven’t toured so much because of the revolving door that this band has been. It’s just the way things were. Now that it’s more of a proper band I think we’ll do more touring. I hope it’s all calmed down. We play live for our own sake though, not for promotion. Bands think you can give away your music and go away on tour and get loads of people seeing them and make money like that but that’s not how it works. You have to put in the hard work to be able to sustain yourself…we certainly do. We need to bring in more money to do this. We still don’t play as much as we should.
KD: We make life much harder with the way that we record because we don’t think then about how we’re going to play it live! We have to come back later and be like, how the fuck are we going to play this? There’ll be 8 of us onstage and we still need 4 more people onstage sometimes. That’s just how it is.
Most people probably wouldn’t notice if one or two tiny bits are missing but of course for you guys yourselves…
JG: Of course that’s the case. Sometimes people ask us why we have 8 people playing live but we have to, 8 is the minimum and the maximum. Without 8 people we’d have to use backing tracks and stuff and I think that’s wrong. It looks stupid for starters. We could do with more people on some of the songs but I think we get most of the bases covered with 8 people. It would be impossible to tour with more people to be honest, 8 is hard enough.
KD: Yet you hear moment live when there’s only two instruments playing…that’s the whole play of dynamics that this band is all about. We’ve played a gig with an orchestra before, we’d love to do that every night but we can’t do that in most places…imagine turning up to a London gig with an orchestra…wouldn’t end well.
JG: Again, live is a different discipline. We treat it differently. We play to our strengths. We make it rock a bit more. There’s no point doing one of the really quiet and atmospheric songs because people will just talk over it and the bottom of the set will drop out or whatever.
If you could single out one Crippled Black Phoenix song to sum up everything you love about the band then what would it be?
JG: “We Forgotten Who We Are”, “Burnt Reynolds”, “Song for the Loved”…those kind of tracks I think. I think there’s two different aspects of it. We’re becoming more focused now…on the rock stuff and the more Americana/folk stuff. We tend to stick to that more in the studio but we tend to stick to the rock for now. If we can ever bring bigger production onstage that would be great. That’s a crucial part of what we do though.
KD: It’s always good to have something that’s an important part of your sound that you’re waiting to develop onstage as well. You listen to some bands and you know that what you get now is what you’re going to get for the next twenty years. So actually, I’m pretty happy about the fact that we could do acoustic gigs or whatever.
JG: We did one acoustic gig in Germany and it was great.
KD: It was just a one-off thing with accordion and stuff. It’s not a stretch. It’s not like Iron Maiden unplugged. You just have to make slight variations to the songs.
JG: It’s nice to have that versatility, that’s the other thing about having 8 people. The piano is such a perfect thing for us; it just fits in with acoustic or whatever as well as with the rock band thing.
Where do you see Crippled Black Phoenix a few years down the road, say five years time?
JG: We’ll be at the bottom of Loch Ness in five years time. I don’t know…it’s a very tricky question.
It’s best not to know I think…
KD: It’s not day-to-day for us but it’s short-term. It’s the nature of the beast for us. We’re not twenty year-olds anymore. Anything can happen.
JG: I think we’ve got an average age of nearly forty now. With that comes a bit more patience and wariness I think. There’s no point in delusions of grandeur or anything. Who knows what could happen.
KD: We’ll hopefully record a new album later this year and hopefully tour some more and maybe go back to the States.
JG: Either that or we’ll be in jail!
We will see. Thanks very much for taking the time out to talk to me. It’s been a pleasure.
JG/KD: Cheers, no problem.
Crippled Black Phoenix went on to play London’s The Lexington at what was probably one of the finest gigs of the year thus far. The band are in pre-production for their next album but previous records are available now. The double album “The Resurrectionists / Night Raider” is harder to track down than the “200 Tons of Bad Luck” compilation of the two discs but is around if you look in the right places.
The work of various members of Crippled Black Phoenix in other guises is also recommended, including the solo albums of pianist Daisy Chapman and vocalist Joe Volk.
Crippled Black Phoenix tour Europe starting in Frankfurt on the 3rd May and concluding in Lille on the 21st May.