Interview: Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats
It’s perhaps fitting that as the freshest sounding British guitar band of 2013, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, have crept surreptitiously from obscurity in Cambridge — a rock backwater whose hipster notoriety extends no further than having housed Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett during his reclusive retirement.
Hatched in near-total isolation, this remarkable combo, who sound very approximately like Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and Slade all at once, have made all the more impact. Word began to spread of their amazing entrail-splattered riffola on the doom metal scene in late 2011, after initial pressings of their second album, Blood Lust, sold out immediately, and began to change hands on eBay for an astonishing £700.
But Uncle Acid’s music is fully deserving of such pecuniary folly. Raunchy and demented, yet deceptively crafted to the point of mastery in their tunes and harmonies, Blood Lust and its newly released sequel Mind Control would already be massive hits in a better world. In hell, they probably already are.
Yet, even as their renown spreads, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats remain shrouded in mystery. Via their new label, Rise Above, eMusic’s Andrew Perry was merely forwarded a mobile number, and a time to call it. Who knew what lurked in the shadows at the end of the telephonic corridor…
Hi there, is that Uncle Acid?
Nobody seems to know if that’s how you want to be addressed, or…
You can call me Kevin if you want.
Kevin, your music has been blowing our minds. When my buddy Todd first put me onto you, I couldn’t quite understand why you’d make music so melodically rich, yet only release it in such tiny quantities. But then obviously its extreme collectability has helped spread a buzz about the band. Was that your master plan?
No, not at all, we didn’t think anybody wanted our stuff, that was the problem, so we just printed as much as we could afford — really small runs, because we could only afford to get booklets printed up in batches of 50 or 25. I thought, have we really got much of a fanbase beyond that?
So that’s how we started, and it built up and up, and we started pressing more CDs, and then it just got to where we couldn’t keep up with it anymore, so luckily at that point, Lee [Dorrian, of Napalm Death] stepped in and Rise Above [Dorrian's label] took over, and they’ve helped push us further. So we didn’t plan it to be like that, we just weren’t aware what kind of audience we had, or might have, so we just did what we thought we could sell, which was not very much.
Have you emerged from a thriving doom-metal subculture in Cambridge?
No, we happened in isolation. There’s not really a music scene in Cambridge. It’s an academic place, there are no real music venues for bands to play. It was a struggle to get any musicians involved, so we started just as a three-piece, then we tried doing a bit of gigging, but it didn’t sound very good with just the three of us, so we decided that we’d just be a studio band, and do albums, but now we’ve got a new line-up, we’re more focused now. Everyone else is in London, and I’m the only one that lives in Cambridge, so it’s a little bit different, but it’s the same idea. We’re still outsiders, wherever we choose to reside.
Your sound is so evocative of vintage Black Sabbath and turn-of-the-1970s heavy rock, it almost seems like an implicit criticism of contemporary metal. Correct?
Yeah, most of our influences are from the ’60s, ’70s and maybe early ’80s, and that’s pretty much it. That’s what we absorb, and it just comes out as whatever. One of the things we took from [Black Sabbath] is the idea of having the riff, and the heaviness, but having a really good melody on top, which is what a lot of the modern metal bands seem to have lost. We’re bringing back melodies. I love Electric Wizard and Blood Ceremony and bands like that, but I don’t really think we have a lot in common with them. I think there’s something else to our sound, we’re not as heavy as that. The Beatles are a big influence on us also, so… How can you compare to that, you know?
You yourself play the same Les Paul Junior guitar as Johnny Thunders. Is he a hero?
I love him. He’s one of my biggest influences, even though you probably can’t hear it in the music. I’m a big fan so I had to get the same guitar as him. It’s just got a very distinct sound to it. It’s just a really raw, rock ‘n’ roll sound.
We heard that your second album, Blood Lust, was supposed to be based on an imaginary horror B-movie. Confirm or deny!
Yeah! The story is supposed to be a long-lost horror film from the early ’70s. The plot follows a Witchfinder General kind of guy, who goes around torturing women — that’s how he gets his thrills. He kills people all around the country, and at the end he meets the Devil. It’s not a great story [unrepentant laugh], but it was kind of good thinking of a B-movie, and what would happen in a really terrible B-movie, which I would love to watch, and basing an album around that. That’s the kind of crap that I watch, rubbish like that with no real plotline.
Are you properly into the occult? Or are you just adopting the language of metal with all the Satanic stuff?
With us, it’s more about the film side. The occult thing, that doesn’t have anything to do with it. This is just thinking of things like B-movies, or old Hammer Horror films, and just trying to recreate that vibe in the form of music, rather than anything that these occult bands are doing. We’re not taking it too seriously.
Not with a name like Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats…
I’m guessing the new record, Mind Control, is a similar imaginary movie, but one about the Manson Family?
That was the starting point for the concept, which obviously was to do with mind control, and the story narrative is some guy who starts a super-cult out in the desert, and they steal motorcycles, and he’s got all these girls around, and they do drugs — it’s kind of Charles Manson meets Jim Jones — and obviously, there has to be a big murder spree at the end. So it’s more the American exploitation films of the early ’70s. I find writing lyrics hard, so to make things easier for myself, I come up with these stories.
Have you got rooms full of this nonsense at home on VHS?
I do really enjoy terrible movies. Rubbish films are an escape as well, it gets you away from all the bullshit.
Some of Mind Control has a mellower vibe. Was the idea to let some light into the sound this time?
The idea was to mix it up a little, and maybe not give people what they want or expect, which would maybe be Blood Lust Pt 2, because that did so well.
The production is still, um, fairly murky.
Part of that was due to the fact that we didn’t really have any budget to start with. The new record, we got to use more expensive valve mics, but it still sounds raw because there’s not really anything else done with it. It’s us live in the studio, then we just balanced it all in the mix, and that was it. There are no fancy effects on it. Part of our whole thing is small valve amps that don’t really work properly. We just tried to keep it as loud as possible.