By Matt Maric
As we all know, 2020 hasn’t been the greatest year for the world; between the Australian bushfires at the start of the year, Kobe Bryant dying unexpectedly in a plane crash and the slow shut down of (most of) the world thanks to Covid, has resulted in most people wishing this year would end already! But whilst there has been quite a lot of negatives over the past 10 months, quite a few bands have been getting together to brainstorm and write new material (can I just say 2021 is going to be one hell of a year for music!) and some have even been able to get into the studio and record.
Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons is one such band, who released their second album We’re The Bastards on November 13th via Nuclear Blast. And during the hype in the lead up weeks to album release, drummer Dane Campbell was kind enough to sit down and have a lengthy chat, covering topics such as about the upcoming album/creation process, how he has been keeping himself sane during Covid, and lastly how the band is trying to prevent themselves being labelled as Motörhead lite.
The opening topic of discussion was about enthusiasm within the band surrounding the upcoming release date of We’re The Bastards and Campbell happily explained “it’s getting really exciting now, as we recorded it quite a few months ago. I wouldn’t say I forgot about it, but once we finished it and listened to the final mixes I guess I kinda put it aside for a while. (laughs) But with the release coming out in a couple of weeks, a couple of reviews have started coming out. They’ve been really positive so it’s really exciting, and that’s when you know you’ve really done a good job. It’s difficult being a creative person, as you don’t know when your own stuff is good and how others are going to react to it. But now the journalists have started sharing it and a UK magazine gave it a 10/10 (I think they were called PowerPlay), which is always encouraging; if all the other ones are similar, I’ll be very happy! It’s just an exciting time to hear what the fans think, as the singles we’ve put out so far have generally been well received. There’s always a few negative people (especially on YouTube), but I don’t take them to heart so they can say what they want.”
As conversation moved towards how fans have been reacting to the 3 released singles (‘Son of a Gun’, ‘Bite My Tongue’ and ‘We’re The Bastards’), Campbell expressed, “you kind of get to know a lot of your fans on social media plus recognise and know who your biggest fans are, and I’m happy to say they’re all loving it, which is the main thing. As long as we’re keeping our current fans satisfied and happy that’s good, we don’t want to lose them; obviously if we can attract some new ones that’s really cool as well! This is why we’ve put out the choice of singles we have, as they all have a slightly different range and sound to the one before. Not only that, we also have a new single being released around the day of the album release which is completely different again! Hopefully this will result in more people realising that we aren’t just a one trick band, or that we don’t just sound like Motörhead with a different singer, which a lot of people have labelled us as. We actively try not to be that and be our own band with our own sound and identity! But cycling back to reactions, all the big fans I’m aware of have been really stoked upon hearing the new stuff and are really excited to hear the full thing. That’s what makes it really cool, knowing they’ve pre-ordered it and they can’t wait! Plus it’s a really nice feeling creatively that I’ve made something that someone can be that excited about. I mean from a consumer of music perspective it’s very rare that I get that feeling – if my favourite band releases a new album I’ll check it out and (normally) enjoy it, but I haven’t had that level of excitement for a long time. So the fact people are experiencing that due to something we created is great, and thankfully people like that still exist!”
Taking time to touch further on the fact the band has been likened to “Motörhead with a different singer” or “Motörhead lite”, Campbell was quick to play devil’s advocate by pointing out, “it’s mainly the people who’ve only heard one song or watched one video on YouTube and haven’t had the chance to see us at a festival and realise, “they’re actually pretty good and have their own sound.” Having said this we don’t want to lose my dad’s Motörhead fanbase as well, which makes it really difficult. We want to try and appeal to those guys, whilst also not appearing to be cashing in on Motörhead and writing all our songs to sound like them. I mean there are one or two new tracks that have that kind of influence (like Son of a Gun), but that’s just fast rock music with a riff basically, it’s not rocket science!”
With such a precise end to the topic at hand, conversation cycled back to Campbell’s comment of “we recorded it quite a few months ago. I wouldn’t say I forgot about it, but once we finished it and listened to the final mixes I guess I kinda put it aside for a while,” as I wanted to know more about how smoothly everything went during recording. Campbell divulged that “we started recording drums either late March/Early April and did everything over the next month or so. All the drumming was all done within the first 5 days. Mind you, this was all done during the hype of the UK Corona lockdown, so to be extra safe and to prevent breaking any laws, it was just two of us in the studio at any one time. Whilst we had the final mixes and the masters by June, the label needs a couple of months to do their thing. As I mentioned earlier, I wouldn’t say I forgot about it but we had other things happening, so I was concentrating on them. Then it started rolling in August again once we started filming for one the music videos.”
Following a quip from myself regarding the impressively quick turnaround time from start to finish (let alone the fact they managed to do it so quickly during the lockdown), Campbell gave a small insight into the mentality/mindset of the band from a creation process stating, “I guess we could have taken a lot longer if we wanted to, but we’ve never been that kind of band – even our songwriting process is generally pretty quick! We don’t dither with song ideas for months and months on end. We try a few things and put a few things together, we might switch a few ideas around and then kind of stick with it, but it normally works. I’m not saying we’re the best songwriters on Earth (as we’re obviously not!), but it doesn’t seem that difficult for us to come up with hard rock songs and I’d say we’re quite lucky in that respect. “
Campbell then took some time to explain how they weren’t overly hampered with the Covid lockdowns, as “we recorded it ourselves and produced it in (brother) Todd’s studio, so that helped us as we weren’t limited to tightened schedules and working Monday to Friday and could do it whenever we wanted. Plus because there were only two of us at a time we were very productive every day because there weren’t multiple people there joking around and providing distractions. Whilst that’s all fun, we were focused on getting the work done! I then didn’t end up going back until a couple of weeks later to track some percussion/tambourine, so I wasn’t there any other time for safety reasons. I would have loved to be there especially during the guitar solo and vocals time, but we were being extra careful as we didn’t know how serious Covid was back then. I mean here in Wales we’re about to go into another strict lockdown with all the shops reclosing as of 6pm tonight (Oct 23rd), so it’s essentially lockdown version 2.0 for us.”
Following Campbell’s statement about Wales re-entering a new wave of lockdowns, it felt like the perfect time to touch on the opening line to the album “Music is life, music is therapy” and enquire how much creating the album helped everyone’s mental health, particularly under the toll of 2020. Speaking from a group perspective at first, Campbell mentioned how “I didn’t have a hand in writing the lyrics, but when I heard the songs back for the first time I felt that it was a very good opening lyric. The lyrics are about us going out and performing, so when we wrote the lyrics it was due to us wanting to get out and do it again. But as we call our fans ‘The Bastards’ across our fan groups, the idea was also a homage to them. So we asked fans to film themselves rocking out to the chorus we posted online and send in fan footage. A lot of the hardcore fans we mentioned earlier are in the video clip!”
Campbell then took time to discuss how he’s been dealing with Covid from a personal level, opening up with, “for me, it’s hard for me to say. I guess at the time of writing/recording, it kept me busy. I’ve also kept myself really busy since then, as I went out and got myself a part time job (a lot safer and wiser financially) on top of starting my own podcast called Drum For The Song…I’ve been busier during Covid than ever before, even though I’m not playing any gigs! I don’t really have much down time, as I’m either editing the current or planning the next podcast or making trailers; it’s really fun! The concept for the podcast basically came about when I was playing festivals in Europe and sharing stages with some huge bands and I thought to myself, “I should take advantage of this one day, maybe start a podcast and plan some interviews whilst at festivals.” I mean I was listening to less music and more podcasts at the time and I thought, “I could do this!” Mind you I wasn’t very confident with my own voice and public speaking, but I tried to push myself through that barrier and it’s gotten to the point where if I stutter or stumble my words, I don’t care as it’s only natural. But that was the idea and I’ve managed to interview some great drummers; Nigel Glocker from Saxon was my first episode which was really cool as I’m into heavy metal and Matt Sorum from Guns N Roses/Velvet Revolver/The Cult was episode three, so I’ve been really lucky to get some amazing guests so far! On the flip side, I also want to help out local drummers and those I grew up with and personally know so I can try to give them a plug, as I’m only nine episodes in at this stage (it’s still early days) and I’m finding it difficult to market/promote my podcast. It’s a struggle for me to grow my podcast, so I understand what those guys are going through and want to help them out where I can! A little bit of bonus trivia about the podcast is that the segues of me playing drums were actually recorded during the album recording; I literally finished playing the last song and asked Todd to keep “the tape rolling.””
Continuing to speak with Campbell on an intimate level, it was time to pick at his mind and not only discuss his personal favourite song on We’re The Bastards, but why it was his favourite. Not holding anything back, Campbell divulged that Born To Roam is his favourite, reason being that “it’s very different to everything we’ve done before, plus from a drummer/musician perspective, I quite like the groove of it! During the track, I was doing a two-handed higher hi-hat pattern and I can imagine people grooving along to it in a moshpit, rather than just moshing. Essentially that was one of the songs I was talking about earlier that we thought would be different to our usual sound. In fact the working title was ‘The Country Song’. I wouldn’t say it sounds like country, but the guitar riffs are a little more southern. On top of that Neil (Starr) wasn’t there during the writing process, so once he added his vocals we realised he’d turned it into a melodic and catchy song, and I’m really looking forward to playing it live before too long!”
Using that as a good way to move towards the end of the interview, the last topic was about the band’s plans for the remainder of 2020. Campbell opened this topic with pointing how out “2020 was meant to be our busiest year ever regarding festivals and headline shows, but as we know they weren’t able to happen. There’s been about 90% success in rescheduling, but unfortunately a few shows have been cancelled outright; some of which are a UK headline tour we planned to promote the album. The next officially booked shows are headline shows in Germany during April and whilst they’re still a bit of a risk, you can’t throw something together the last minute and expect a positive turnout.”
After that moment of logistical insight, the topic of virtual concerts and logistics behind arranging them came up. Campbell drew the interview shut as he explained “it was an idea to record a live performance when we were recording one of the music videos, considering we did a free one for the first album that was broadcast from the YouTube studios in London. After discussing it, we realised it would turn out to be a real safety issue. It would need to be indoors, there’d need to be at least six people to run the broadcast, and when it came down to it, it’s not worth risking dad’s health. And to end the interview on a cliffhanger…whilst I can’t say much more, keep your eyes out during release week as we’ve got one or two things up our sleeve!”