Think no one sings anymore because auto-tune does it for them? Catch yourself missing the squeak of guitar strings, crackle of live microphones, sharp highs and trembling lows of snare and bass drums? Sick of music that’s been compressed so much it sounds like audio mulch squeezed through a radio tube?
You’re not alone! So stop digging through that dusty crate of vinyl records and pay attention — The Heavy are here, and they bring the dirt with them.
This fearsome foursome from Noid, UK threw down the gauntlet to wiped-clean, overly-processed artists back in the fall of 2007 with their first album, Great Vengeance and Furious Fire. Their unapologetically messy, raw, soulful sound generated comparisons to everyone from Curtis Mayfield to Family Stone to Gnarls Barkley; and their second release,The House That Dirt Built, managed to crash through these very high expectations like a fire engine racing to a five-alarm blaze. These boys mean serious business. And that business is all about mashing funk, soul, R&B, blues and whatever else that fits into a heavy-bottomed, swampy, sweaty, filthy howl of pure sexual heat.
They blew the roof off the studio when we recorded them live Brooklyn, NY back in mid-January, and did it again to an audience of millions on the David Letterman TV show a week later. Less than 2 weeks after that, “How You Like Me Now” was featured in a commercial during the most-watched SuperBowl ever (106 million) and it’s safe to say the song left viewers with the disconcerting feeling of having actually enjoyed a car advertisement.
We caught up with singer Kelvin Swaby and guitarist Dan Taylor (they’ve been friends since the 90s according to this) during a short break between The Heavy’s recent dates in England and a punishing tour through Europe from mid-March to late-May. They are clearly as badass in person as they are through music.
Kelvin (do you prefer Swaby?), I heard you never thought of yourself as a singer until Dan suggest it…Are you getting used to being the lead singer/frontman?
Swaby: Swaby is the preferred. In response to getting used to being the lead, well, all I can say is that it feels like I’ve been walking these hot coals for some time now and the soles of my feet are in relatively good shape.
You both grew up in homes flooded with blues, rock, reggae, soul…all kinds of music. But what’s the first record/album that you bought for yourself?
Dan Taylor: It was a best of Madness, they were huge in the UK during the 80s….baggy trousers, dirty shirt, pulling hair and eating dirt! School ground anthems!
What’s Noid like? I know it’s near Bath…What was it like growing up there?
DT: As the name suggests it’s a cross between noise and void. It’s like every dead-end nowhere town you’ve ever been to and thanked Christ you don’t live in.
You still live there, right? Why not move to London? Besides the fact that it’s blindingly expensive.
DT: I’m waiting for London to move to me. It’s only a matter of time.
The Heavy’s had songs on TV shows and played sold-out shows for years, but you’re really blowing up now. What’s been the most exciting/rockstar moment so far?
DT: Rather than let Charlotte Gainsbourg use the toilet AFTER me whilst in New York, I was the total gent and let her go first, allowing her to retain her lunch/lungs. Cos I’m SO rock and roll……..
When you played David Letterman’s US late-night talk show, did you know going in that he’s usually a cranky, curmudgeonly type?
DT: It was quite frustrating as I had been promised a hot tub with Catherine Zeta Jones and Randy Jackson. By the time we had finished they had left the building.
Who arranges for your song placement? Were you aware of the kind of impact you’d have with “How You Like Me Now” in a Super Bowl car commercial? Is it strange?
S: Zync arrange all of our sync placements in the U.S and they are doing a really amazing job. We just write the filth that we do and it’s great that there are people who want to use it. The music industry is in a difficult place at the moment, so for a band like ours, it’s great to get some exposure, via ads, film and T.V.
After MTV Iggy taped The Heavy for a live performance, the staff came back raving about the band’s shoes. Apparently, you’ve got nice style! Where do you shop?
DT: Good shoes are essential. My favorite store right now is 10ft Single in Brooklyn. It’s the best vintage store on the planet. I usually set aside at least 2 days for uninterrupted rummaging.
Is it true that you met working at The Gap?
DT: It’s true, our eyes met across a pile of unsized Khakis…
What happened to keyboard player Hannah Collins? Is she still with you?
S: We lost her in a Polish petrol station, just outside Wroclaw and have not seen her since.
Okay, so you lost the only female member. What are the pros and cons of being an all-male band now?
Pros: We’re like one, overweight, happy family now.
Cons: I truly can’t think of any right now.
Is “Oh No! Not You Again!” a reference to the Rolling Stones song of the same name? Is a coincidence?
S: It wasn’t a reference to The Stones at all, I’m afraid. It came from me looking after a friend’s house for the weekend. They had left an ounce of skunk in a draw and had said if I wanted any, then I was more than welcome to as much as I liked. I hadn’t smoked for a good few years but I couldn’t resist the smell! While listening to the riff that had been recorded earlier in the day, the lyrics started to flow and the fight against the vice was won.
True or False: “How You Like Me Now” was inspired by a past relationship.
S: Indeed. Probably more than one though…
It’s one of those songs that instantly connects, the refrain is so insanely catchy! Can we play Mad Libs with it? Like, “Yeah, I__(past tense verb)__ in the__(noun)__. How you like me now!?!”
Me: “Yeah, I vomited in the freezer. How you like me now?!”
S: I stepped in sh*t, walked it into your house, tried on your best lingerie, whilst sniffing your dirtiest. How you like me now? Something like that?
[Swaby's response might not be a proper Mad Lib, but it's so vile we weren't going to argue. - Ed.]
The title of the new album, The House That Dirt Built, seems to really emphasize the importance of sounding “dirty,” sort of embracing mistakes and imperfections. What attractive about a “dirty” sound to you?
S: The imperfections are what made some of the greatest records of all time. Today, bands like to be super clean and remove the soul, while sometimes what could be deemed as wrong can sound so right in a lot of cases. We embrace this way of thinking and so, brick by brick and imperfection after each raw imperfection, we built our grubby, little house. There are no dusters, no cleaning detergents and definitely no vacuum cleaner. It will remain this way, I believe.
How do you get grittiness to sound so appealing?
DT: Because our songs are f*$king ace.
Do any new bands make you want to get up and dance? Any new artist/genres that don’t necessarily influence your sound but you find interesting?
DT: Malachai from Bristol, The Black and Reds from Birmingham UK and The Morning Benders.
The Heavy’s tour manager, Tim Dulany, told us you guys love eating burritos when you visit the US. You even went out for burritos after our shoot with you! Are burritos not as good in the UK?
DT: No Burritos for me, see the Charlotte Gainsbourg incident above……
S: I’m afraid that I’m guilty. The Californian Super Burrito @ Lucha Libre Taco Shop in San Diego is probably the most ridiculous burrito myself and Chris have ever tasted in our lives…A MUST! You will never taste another Burrito as good.
Dan, purchasing suggestions for fellow left-handed guitarists?
DT: Anti deppressants. As a left-handed guitarist you will lead a life of continual crushing blows and disappointments. It’s almost impossible to find quality left-handed intsruments without accordingly impossible price tags.
If you could tour with anyone, past or present, what would the lineup look like?
S: John Bonham and Al Jackson on drums, The supremes on backing vocals, Jimi, Howling Wolf and Hubert Sumlin on guitars, Spencer Page on Bass, Jeff Buckley and Al Green on Vocals and The Memphis Horns and the Dap Kings to blast some monstrous riffing into the mix. Maybe we get The RZA and Rick Rubin to mix the live recording, with Willie Mitchell overseeing as executive producer. Maybe………. but that’s just me.
Favorite countries/places to visit? Where was your best show ever so far? Worst?
DT: Best = New York EVERYTIME!
S: Worst = Alencon, in France. Completely inappropriate. Enough said.
Ok, last question: loads of your songs are about relationships and sex, however indirectly. We need your advice — what are your hard-earned, specific lessons on how not to screw up?
DT: Your asking us? I think you’d be better off asking Tiger Woods.
Slideshow: In the studio with The Heavy
Photo Courtesy of Michael Maxxis