Introducing - The Shogun’s Decapitator
With a band name like The Shogun’s Decapitator, you might be misled into thinking you’re about to enter into a samurai metal warzone, rife with high-gain riffs and mach speed drumming, when you pop Head Hunting into your CD player. Thankfully to these ears, the Stourbridge (near Birmingham for you northerners) four piece completely eschew expectation and focus on grooves, rhythms and counter-melodies in a hybrid style of disco-y, post-rock tinged wonder.
No vocalist? No problem, as the group weave more lines into their songs than blades of grass on your lawn. It’s an inherently catchy and furiously addictive blend of things, Head Hunting, and one which has kept my ears glued to the album since its release on Ingue Records a year ago. Recently, I was lucky enough to catch up with Bruce Goodenough (Drums/Guitar/Field Recordings) and the rest of the guys in the band to discuss where Shogun’s have been, and what we can expect from them in the future.
MR: Hey guys, could you explain a little about when The Shogun’s Decapitator started up, and any memories you have of it of it all coming together?
TSD: We’ve all been friends from a very young age and we started the band way back in 2006, the night of the Eurovision Song Contest to be exact. Pete's housemate was away for the weekend so we emptied his lounge, set all of our equipment up, jammed a little in the day and played the Eurovision drinking game on the evening; basically you all divide the nations up equally, then it's two fingers for 8 points, three fingers for 10 points and you down your pint for the big 12 points (Adam got the runaway winners Lordi, so was throwing up about eight cans of Jamaican larger by the end). Anyway, out of this weekend, we ended up with a couple of tracks that we worked on during subsequent weekends.
We had a few more members back then. People would just turn up and jam with us. We had live samples and even a female vocalist on one of the early songs. I'd say we were a lot more trip hop and ambient back then. We just had 3 rules: 1. No blues 2. No metal 3. No blues metal. We still stand by these pillars.
MR: You have a really unique style which blends elements of disco, indie and funk. Was playing this type of music a conscious effort or did it just come together out of the playing styles of the guys in the band?
TSD: Yeah, this was an awakening of sorts that happened very suddenly during the summer of 2007. At this point we were jamming up in Pete's loft. It was fucking boiling up there so we spent more time dicking around with loop pedals than we did jamming, out of pure economy of physical effort. Adam began just looping the shit out of little guitar shards. The more you would add to the loop, the more it would develop its own rhythm. Pete and Joe would repeat this process on their instruments and at a point a few minutes in Bruce would just try and drop the required beat. It was a simple process but it sounded hilarious to us. We recorded like three of these two minute loop phrases and we remember listening to them over and over and basically thinking it was the greatest thing we’d ever heard. From that point we knew this is what we were going to do. Two of those loops became Picturehouse off our album and the other one became Dogging with Robots off our EP (which was inspired by the last scene in the first Transformers reboot).
MR: Last year, you released your debut album ‘Head Hunting’ through Ingue & Field Records. What was the recording process like for that project? Did you guys spend a lot of time in the studio or nail everything in one take?
TSD: My God it took so long. We went to Dave Draper in Pershore, Worcestershire after a brief consultation with Theo. Dave's amazing, but also very very busy - a victim of his own success. We booked two weekends thinking we'd totally have it sorted by then. How wrong we were! The process was meticulous and very time consuming. I remember on the week leading up to the main guitar tracking session, Ad had a freak Frisbee accident on the Downs in Bristol and arrived that Saturday with a right arm in plaster cast, somehow managing to record all his guitar parts minus a couple of part muted sections! It took a further 6-7 weekend sessions, all months apart, to finish the record. I think it took over a year in all and, while at times the process was frustrating, I think all the struggle was worth it. We wanted it to sound real tight, almost synthetic in the way the instruments were delivered without it sounding too overproduced. It's a tricky line to walk but we were really happy with how it turned out.
MR: Do you have any favourite songs or moments on the record, or anything you feel goes down especially well live? Personally I love that break in the middle of Bird in Hand.
TSD: We like the sections that we worked the hardest on sonically I would say, like the endings of Swan and Foley Arms, and the middle section in Crabmill. Those are sections that changed the most in the studio so I guess they feel fresher to us. Bird in Hand is an 8 year old song for us so everything in that recording was played to the letter with very little room for experimentation. We did select a tempo that made us all laugh though, as it was just at the limit of what our fingers and arms could deal with. That was a funny afternoon.
We were super stoked with how Cross turned out and that one's got extra work by Theo and DBH who are both very talented guitarists and people we've toured with extensively, almost exclusively over the last 5 years or so.
MR: Could you explain the track titles on the record? Is ‘Head Hunting’ based on one big pub crawl?
TSD: Yeah, all of the tracks are named after pubs on a particular road heading into Stourbridge, in order as you would walk them. As it took us so long to write them all, Exclusives no longer exists and The Picturehouse is called something stupid like 'The Arena' or some bollocks now, but you guys out there still have the opportunity to do 'The Shoguns Run' if you so wish. It’s also the road that links (loosely) all of our parental homes. Guppy grew up next door to the Foley Arms, Bruce and Joe lived a two minute walk away with Pete and Adam living up more towards the Bird in Hand / Cross area, so it’s fairly significant geographically in all of our lives as teenagers.
Each of the tracks were inspired by either a particular night or collection of evenings spent on the road in question. A number of the field recordings you will hear throughout were recorded on Bruce’s birthday I believe, in or outside the pubs associated with each track. We tried, at certain points, to represent actual events through the music. Retreat for example is meant to sound like you are outside in the pub. There's a little smoking terrace there. It’s close to the road and such so we threw a load of field recordings in there and tried to low sweep the drums. Also at the end of Picturehouse we tried to encapsulate a vision of Pete spinning and falling out of the literal Picturehouse only to have to straighten up again for the bouncers at the Swan next door (he's a drunk bastard). This sort of silliness is what we enjoy about the record the most, although we appreciate that it all means nothing to 99% of the people who listen to us. (Bruce tries to explain as much as possible at the shows).
The 'Head Hunting' bit you're going to have to figure out for yourselves, all members wish to distance themselves from any incrimination.
MR: Any especially great or unusual gigging memories from over the years?
TSD: As we don't require a PA system we end up playing some bizarre places occasionally. We played in a Cold War bunker in Amsterdam for example, that was pretty surreal. They've still got rows of bikes in there that they were going to use to power the place if nuclear war started.
We played in a tiny kitchen in Manchester that was a really great show and another house party up there (at Anson Corner) where Adam fell asleep in the shower so someone (Joe) turned it on. He then fell down the stairs whilst being soaking wet trying to catch whoever was responsible. We never got asked back.
It's not all been plain sailing - we got chased out of a pub in Ludlow, which was the worst experience any of us has had in our musical careers. The locals were pretty much kicking off on us and our touring partners 'The FTSE 100' as we loaded the gear out. They bloody hated us, I don't think they understood why we didn't have vocals and it ended up swirling into some sort of shitstorm that was very difficult to escape from as we had all drunk too much to drive the van away. Adam did steal a brush off them though, so needless to say, we had the last laugh.
Don't ever go to Ludlow. Seriously.
MR: Can we expect anything new from the Shogun’s in the near future?
TSD: Joe has just had his first child, little baby Max, so we're not committing to too much at the moment. We played a little 4 date weekender thing with Downard last month & we had a really good time, so maybe another run of shows might happen in the New Year. We've also written a track for a split 7" with 'The Hogg’s Bison' who are incredible. That should be out next year so watch this space.
So, if you want a break from metal and blues (and blues metal) go and check out Head Hunting over at https://theshogunsdecapitator1.bandcamp.com and give them a like on Facebook if you’re that way inclined.
Words & Interview: Ben Armstrong