March 2010 - MISERICORDE (ex-YEAR ZERO)
There is no doubt about the fact that Hellhound Records was the most important label for doom metal and heavy-weight hardrock in the late 1980's/early 1990's. By that time, only Rise Above Records were able to keep up with Germany's heaviest label, but that's it. Perhaps most people had never heard from the Maryland scene with bands like Internal Void, The Obsessed, Unorthodox or Iron Man, if there wasn't the Berlin-based record label.
But there have been also lesser-known groups as, for example, UK's YEAR ZERO. Even today, only very few know them compared to the level of recognition from aforementioned bands. After the release of their second album 'Creation' they disappeared from the scene and I have often wondered what happenend to the band members except for guitarist Mark Griffiths (ex-Cathedral) who joined Blackstar. Last year I received my answer in the form of two demo's from a band named MISERICORDE. The name of the sender was Murray Geddes, the former bass player of YEAR ZERO. I really liked both demos and I'm a fan of his old band, so it was a logical step to arrange an interview with him. The result gives you a deep and detalied insight into Murray Geddes' career, from YEAR ZERO to MISERICORDE.
First off, let's start with a chat about your old band YEAR ZERO. Please tell us a little more about how the band was founded. How did you meet?
We all knew each other through a club we all used to go to in Liverpool, called Planet X, that used to have loads of different gigs on, from Goth bands, to Punk/Hardcore, Metal and the likes, as well as the club nights, where they'd play pretty much anything, Goth/Indie/Punk/Metal/Psychobilly/Psychedelic/ etc., etc. I got to know Griff through going to a load of Carcass shows there from around '87, but only really got talking to him after we found out that we were both into bands like Trouble, Candlemass and Saint Vitus, and we got talking about other bands doing that kind of thing. Around '88, I was at college in Preston, and Russ was there at the same time, but on a different course. We used to go to the same pubs and recognized each other from the Planet, and just got talking. It was only around '91/'92 that I got to know Mike, after Russ asked me to play bass for a band he was trying to get going, and Mike was playing drums. After a few months of rehearsing together, the guitarist quit, so we kind of went on a bit of a hiatus.
Griff had been doing Cathedral for a while at that point, and I'd seen them on their second show in the Planet X, where they played with S.O.B. from Japan and a few other Hardcore bands. During our band's hiatus, Russ was visiting a mutual friend of his and Griff's in Canada while Cathedral were on the North American leg of the 'Gods of Grind' tour, they went backstage to catch up and Griff mentioned in the conversation that he was leaving Cathedral after the tour finished. He'd also mentioned that he wanted to get another band going when he got back home, Russ suggested that we should all get together and work on some songs, we all knew each other, so it just kind of went from there. I think it was around late '92 that we really started rehearsing together, Griff had a few songs fully written, so we worked on them, and on Griff's suggestion, we became YEAR ZERO. The first song we did together, was 'Headache Station'.
Many people know that Mark Griffiths was previously in Cathedral, but what have you done before you joined YEAR ZERO? What was your first band?
I started playing bass when I was about 14/15, had a few bands with friends locally to where I lived, playing covers and just generally being crap. I got to know more people in the local scene, and wanted to do more original material rather than covers, plus I was listening to a lot of different stuff around that time, thrash/punk/classic rock/etc, and I didn't really relish playing "staid/boring old" rock covers when I was listening to newer and more "extreme" bands, and wanted to do something along those lines. My first "proper" band was while I was at college in Preston, in around '88, called Hecatomb.
A friend of mine called Jeff played bass, he'd hooked up with another guy I knew, from gigs at the Planet X, called Stu who was a drummer, and they had a guitarist, but were looking for a "singer", so I volunteered! The original guitarist quit, and we asked Kev from local Punk band Virus Insurrection to play guitar. We did a demo and a couple of gigs (one with Devoid and one with Nightmare Visions), but then I moved back to Liverpool and had to quit that band. It was around that time that I hooked up with Russ and Mike, playing bass again. I still keep in touch with Stu, and he's still in a band with Kev - Mass of Bastards.
How did you get in contact with Hellhound Records? Did you sent a demo tape to their headquarter in Berlin or did they get in touch with you?
They got in touch with us. That all came about because Griff had put on a Vitus show in Liverpool on their European tour in around '88/'89, he was a big fan of the band, and he'd interviewed them for his zine 'Under the Oak', Hellhound was pretty much the only label releasing that kind of music consistently at that time. I think he'd met Mike and Tom from Hellhound on that tour, and met up with them again during Cathedral's European shows. When they heard that he was putting another band together after he left Cathedral, they expressed an interest in hearing some material, so I think we sent them a rough rehearsal room tape. They liked what they heard, paid for us to go into a studio to record a demo, then offered us a deal on the back of that.
Your first album 'Nihil's Flame' has been released in 1993. Can you give me some background informations about the history of the recording sessions?
About 3 months after we did the first demo for Hellhound, we went back into the same studio in Liverpool to record 'Nihil's Flame'. It was only a very small studio, so we had to track all the instruments individually, so the actual recording sessions took a fair bit of time. Being typically poor musicians, our own equipment was rubbish, but we managed to borrow a couple of amps from Carcass, so we were able to get a good sound onto tape. The studio only had an 8 track desk & tape machine, so they hired in a 16 track desk and tape machine for the album. We spent around 2-3 weeks recording, and then mixed for a week.
No one tells you about the amount of time spent sitting around when you're recording, and being the bass player, I spent a lot of time sitting around after I'd recorded my parts! Trying to record your parts when the rest of the band were in the control room, messing about behind a window trying to put you off takes a fair amount of focus! Obviously, you're listening to what's being recorded, making suggestions, being critical, trying different sounds etc, but most of the time you're sat in a small room with a bunch of your mates, arsing around! We recorded around June/July or '93, but it wasn't released until early '94.
I have always liked the punk influence in YEAR ZERO's heavy sound. That was one of the reasons why the band had several things in common with Motï¿½rhead but also with Discharge. Which bands have influenced you a lot?
My own influences never really played that great a part in the YEAR ZERO "sound", Griff was the main songwriter in the band, and generally, he'd come into rehearsals with a finished song, so usually, the whole "feel" of the song was there from the start. We were all listening to stuff like Vitus and The Obsessed, who also had that "raw" punk rock edge, as well as everyone having their own different tastes. Griff is a fantastic lyricist as well in my opinion, and a lot of his lyrical ideas dealt with more real life issues, which were more punk oriented, but he'd word them in such a way as you could read a multitude of different meanings into the songs. We certainly used to get a lot of comments after gigs that we had a much more "punk rock" energy in a live setting than on record.
I don't have any live YEAR ZERO material anymore, unfortunately, though I have heard about a surviving video tape of us from the Count Raven/Solstice tour. At the time, I was trying to go for a sound that fitted in with what Griff was writing, as well as trying to make the bass-lines interesting to play. The whole reason I started playing bass was because I grew up listening to a lot of stuff like Sabbath/Rush/Hawkwind/Motorhead, and they all had fantastic, driving bass playing that took the songs to another level. When I got a bit older, and discovered thrash and punk bands, their energy just made me want to play even more basically, Geezer Butler, Geddy Lee, Lemmy, Cliff Burton and Martin Ain have a lot to answer for!
What happened after the release of 'Nihil's Flame'? Did you play a lot of shows in the UK?
We'd only done a handful of gigs when 'Nihil's Flame' was released. Our first gig was opening up for Cathedral, Sleep and Penance in Liverpool on the 'Ethereal Mirror/Holy Mountain' tour. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end! The album was released early '94, it got mixed reviews from the press, and gigs were few and far between. We were given the opportunity to tour the UK in August '94, with Count Raven, who were promoting 'High on Infinity' and Solstice, who'd just released 'Lamentations' through Candlelight. That was certainly an interesting two weeks!
The Bradford, Birmingham and London gigs were my personal highlights, and there were certainly a lot of very memorable moments along the way! We also met and played gigs with some other UK bands playing similar style music, like Acrimony, Mourn and Serenity. I believe that Hellhound had signed a distribution deal with Noise around '94, so Noise were kind of trying to give the label a more "public" profile in the UK. Doing that tour certainly opened up a few doors for us to play some more gigs around the country, and we played quite a few gigs with Acrimony, as well as other bands like Nero Circus and Unsilence.
Two years later, you went into the studio again to record your second and last album 'Creation'. I would say that it's not that dark as the first one and sounds more positive without losing YEAR ZERO's crushing heaviness. Where do you see the differences between both records?
During the tour with Count Raven, Noise UK's representative, Mike Exley (who had previously produced the Metal Forces magazine) told us that Hellhound wanted us to record a second album for them, but they wanted a second demo tape before they committed. We'd had a few songs that were already written, such as 'Mainline Inertia' and 'Kingdom Pain' that went down well live, so we went back in to the same studio we used for the first demo and 'Nihil's Flame' to record the '1994 A.D.' demo. Again, Hellhound liked what they heard, and asked us to record another album for them. Griff was the main songwriter, and would usually come in with a full song, or someone would come in to rehearsals with an idea or two, and we'd kick those around, some worked and became songs, some didn't. To be honest, I'd never really seen 'Creation' as being a more positive sounding album than 'Nihil's Flame', I've always thought that some of Griff's lyrics on 'Creation' were some of the darkest he'd written.
We were gelling more as a band, and I think that we were kind of pushing ourselves a bit more musically. Personally, I really like the songs on 'Creation', but we took less time to record and mix as we went to a bigger studio (Parr Street in Liverpool). Again, although we'd upgraded our equipment, it was still pretty crap, and we had to use our own gear this time around, because Carcass were out on tour, and we were unable to borrow or hire anything better! I was never that happy with the bass sound, which is why the album doesn't have too much bass in the mix unfortunately, but because we didn't have too much studio time, we couldn't go back and spend time getting a better sound. The big difference between 'Nihil's Flame' and 'Creation' is that the bass is more audible on 'Nihil's Flame', which I think really does make a huge difference to the overall sound. 'Creation' was pretty much slated in reviews, and really divides opinion.
Soon after the release of 'Creation', Hellhound Records disappeared from the screen. Was it a big surprise for you and how do you rate the working relationship with them after fifteen years?
At the time, it was something of a huge surprise for me, they'd signed the distribution deal with Noise, then Columbia signed The Obsessed, and the label was finally getting some media attention off the back of the promotion that 'The Church Within' was getting. Doom Metal generally, was finally getting the recognition it deserved in mainstream metal circles, and Hellhound had the biggest and best roster of doom bands around at that time. I think that a number of things happened around '95/'96 that helped drive the final nails in the coffin though, "grunge" had become hugely popular, the "stoner rock" scene was growing, Death Metal was huge, and doom metal was kind of seen as "the embarrassing Uncle" in the metal scene, too old fashioned to be "cool", but too extreme to appeal to the classic rock fans.
At the time, I didn't know exactly what happened to them, I heard numerous rumours of what happened, but nothing definitive. The general impression I got was that they just fell victim to over-stretching themselves financially, without that much coming back in, the usual downfall of a lot of small businesses unfortunately. In hindsight, Mike and Tom were very cool people to deal with on the occasions that I spoke to them, they were just really passionate about the music and bands that they were releasing. My biggest regret about it, is that we never got to gig in Europe.
What do you think today about 'Nihil's Flame' and 'Creation' and who owns the rights to them? Have you ever thought about a re-release?
Funnily enough, I dug both albums out recently and listened to them after a long break, and I do feel that they both still stand up well with the kind of stuff that I'm listening to at the moment. I have been asked a few times recently if we would be interested in re-releasing them, but as Griff was the main songwriter in the band, I believe that he has the final say on the issue. I've spoken to Griff about it, and he's pretty much said that he's against the idea and wouldn't allow it to happen, as he's had his fingers burned in the past with various dealings. So unfortunately, I don't think it'll ever happen.
What are some of the shows that you have played on the road that stuck out in your head?
The two weeks we were on tour with Count Raven and Solstice really sticks in my memory, both Count Raven and Solstice were great guys, and we met some other great bands from around the country, like Acrimony, Mourn and Serenity. Obviously, our first gig sticks out as well, opening up for Cathedral, Sleep and Penance was certainly a highlight, if I'd not have been playing, I would certainly have been in the audience! We did quite a few shows with Acrimony, who were not only a great band, but a fantastic bunch of guys too.
Now finally the last question about your old band. Are you still in contact with Mark Griffiths, Russ McAteer and Mike Unsworth?
I'm still in touch with Griff regularly(ish!), and see him occaisionally, when we're down in Liverpool visiting family. Russ is on my Myspace friends list, but we haven't spoken for a number of years, and I lost touch with Mike after the band split, but I believe he's living in or around London.
What did you do post YEAR ZERO before you formed MISERICORDE?
YEAR ZERO kind of drifted apart, first Griff left to form Blackstar/Blackstar Rising with Jeff, Ken and Carlo from Carcass after Bill left, so Russ, Mike and I decided to regroup with another guitarist, changed the name and started writing some new songs. Unfortunately, at that time, I had started to work away from home, so I was away all week, came home for the weekend and was then spending time in the rehearsal studio. The creative focus had gone, and we were all starting to pull in different directions, and at that point, I felt that I'd rather spend more time riding my motorbike than be in a rehearsal room, so I quit the band.
I then met my future wife, but she lived in Yorkshire, which lead to me relocating over there. I'd kind of lost touch with people and "the scene", but was still listening to music, started playing guitar and writing stuff. I did a recording course at the local college, mainly to get out and meet other local musicians, but that led to me writing more songs. I hooked up with a bass player who'd also relocated to the area, and was working with him in trying to get a band going when I met up with Sealey from Iron Void.
Their guitarist had just left the band (a certain Randolph T Reaper from The Lamp of Thoth), and were looking to get up and running again. Myself and the bassist started jamming with Sealey and Russ, the drummer, but unfortunately, things didn't work out and I quit. Sealey joined a black metal band Sermon of Hypocrisy, but then saw sense and joined forces with Steve Wilson in So Mortal Be, who then later became Iron Void (only joking Sealey!). Late 2001, I was nearly killed in a motorbike accident, when some idiot in a car decided to do a stupid manoeuvre somewhere incredibly dangerous, and it was just my luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I spent a couple of months in hospital, and a few years trying to get over it all. Still got a few nice reminders of that little incident! During the following months after getting out of hospital, one of the few things I could do, without help, was playing guitar, so I started playing around with ideas and older songs I'd written. There was a lot of crap, but there were some gems in there as well.
That's really tough, Murray. It's really good to know that you've survived that terrible accident. Well, ok, as far back as I can remember, MISERICORDE was your solo project at the beginning. When did it became a real band?
Basically, MISERICORDE the band, is all Jay's fault! MISERICORDE started off as a channel for the ideas I'd come up with during the recording course I did, and developed from there. I'd develop ideas, bludgeon them into a song, try and work out a drum pattern to fit the song on my drum machine, then record it. During the time I was recovering from the accident, I met Jay online, we both wanted to start a band and had a lot of common influences, but we didn't live in the same area. I'd put a few band ad's on various internet forums and in some local music shops, had a few offers, but they were all wanting to do the My Dying Bride/Paradise Lost kind of thing, which held no interest to me. Jay was equally having no luck in finding something locally back in Liverpool, so in about 2005, he badgered me so much, we decided to meet up, started jamming out ideas and working on songs with the drum machine. I was still having a lot of health problems following on from the accident, so we didn't rehearse very often.
Things went well, and we advertised for a drummer. We went through a couple of false starts before we hooked up with Dave in Spring 2006. Because of the distances involved, my ongoing health issues and Dave's work commitments, we didn't rehearse that often, but we spent the rest of 2006 working on songs and trying to get the sound right. We decided to record a demo to try and get some gigs in 2007, so we spent some time looking at various studios, but the time and cost of doing that proved to be the downfall of that idea. Because I'd done a recording course, I owned a 4 track recorder, so I decided to upgrade that to a digital recorder, and we'd record during our rehearsals. The initial sessions were promising, so we stuck at it, and 'Soundscapes for the Disenchanted' was created over 4 sessions, we did the music live over 2 sessions, and the only overdubs were the 2 sessions it took to get the vocals "right".
You've changed from bass to guitar for the new band. Have you been bored by the four strings?
It was more by coincidence than actual choice! I'd picked up a cheap guitar while I was in YEAR ZERO to work on ideas at home, but both that and my bass didn't get much use after I left the band. When I moved to Yorkshire, I found myself picking the guitar up more often than I was picking the bass up, then I met up with a bass player who was looking to get a band going. He also played guitar, but he was really into playing bass and had spent a fair bit of money on some very nice equipment. I just wanted to get back into playing and getting a band going, so I carried on playing guitar, so I upgraded the cheap guitar I'd picked up with a cheap Epiphone SG. Needless to say, I went through a few guitars and amps to find the ones that I have now, though I've never been without a bass!
I have chopped and changed them as well over the years, but I managed to pick up my "dream" bass a few years back, only after about 20-odd years of lusting after one! It's a weird transition going from bass to guitar, and many times when I've been recording bass-lines for songs, I've had to wipe the track and start again, because I was playing them like a guitarist! On the flip-side to that, a few guitar playing friends who've heard MISERICORDE have commented that I play guitar like a bassist! Had I found a guitarist rather than a bass player, then I possibly would have switched back to bass, but very early on in the initial jam sessions, I realised that Jay was a far better bass player than I was anyway. Coincidence again? Possibly. After Dave joined, we had quite a few discussions about whether we should find another guitarist and/or singer, but as the sessions went on, and the songs developed, we all came to the conclusion that we should stick as a 3 piece.
Yes, we have had many criticisms of the vocals, and we probably should have looked for a "proper" singer, but as we went on I guess we kind of realised that what we were doing was "a bit different" from the other bands playing similar style music, and the vocals really seemed to fit the music and atmosphere of the music. I really liked the vibe of the 3 piece, so we decided that there was no need to add another guitar. Jay and Dave worked their magic in the gaps left by the guitar, and really filled the sound out. I remember reading an interview with Tony Iommi, where he was asked why Black Sabbath had never had a rhythm guitarist, he said that with Bill and Geezer behind him, they didn't need another guitar to fill the gaps.
What is the current status of the band?
We're officially on hiatus unfortunately. Just as we started recording the second demo, I was made redundant because of the recession. Because I have family commitments, I needed to get another job, but again, because of the recession I had two choices: work away from home during the week, and come back for weekends, or relocate the family, as there was no work around where I lived. Because I'd worked away from home before, and tried keeping a band going, I knew it wouldn't work, especially now that we had a young family. I wanted to see my kids growing up, rather than being a weekend Dad, so my wife and I decided to relocate. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to leave the band, just as we were starting to make a name for ourselves.
It was possibly one of the hardest decisions I've had to make, but unfortunately, doom metal doesn't pay the bills. We played our last gig on the 24th Jan 2009, at the Doomsday festival in Wakefield. Given the chance, I would love to work with Jay and Dave again, we were coming up with some great ideas, and some of the stuff they were coming up with when I brought a song or some riffs into rehearsal really brought things to life and added another dimension to my ideas. The song 'Sub Rosa' off the self titled, 2008 demo started out as a few ideas that Jay had, I added a riff idea I'd had kicking around that didn't fit with anything I'd written. We were jamming it out in rehearsal, and Dave came up with an excellent drum pattern that fitted the riffs perfectly and we had the basis of a great song.
Jay brought in some lyrics he had for the song, I added a few "frilly" guitar bits and it all fitted together within a few rehearsals. I made the decision to "mothball" the MISERICORDE name, because for me, MISERICORDE is Dave, Jay and myself, anything that I do musically in the future without them just wouldn't be the same. Jay played a huge part in getting the band up and running, and Dave added his unique talents to make the band what it was. Getting the band back together at the moment would mean an 800 mile round trip for me to rehearse, and a huge time commitment where I'd be away from my family, but in the words of Black Sabbath: 'Never Say Die'!
Unfortunately, you recorded only two demo's but never a full-length. What's the reason?
Timing is everything I guess! We recorded the first demo, 'Soundscapes for the Disenchanted' to try and get some gigs, we managed to get a slot on a couple of all-day shows in Bradford, HeavyFest and Doom Metal Inquisition V in 2008 off the back of that demo. We made some good contacts and hooked up with some old friends at these shows, which lead to us doing gigs with Iron Void and Unsilence, and we were also asked to play at the Doomsday all-dayer in January 2009. Just as we were recording the second, self titled demo in late 2008, I had the news that I was being made redundant from where I worked, and although I was lucky enough to find another job, it meant that I had to quit the band.
We decided to release the demo and play the Doomsday show, but we couldn't really try to sell the band to a record company if the band was no longer a "going concern". We toyed with the idea of booking some studio time and recording the songs for an album, but again, time and cost were against us. I'd love the opportunity to go into a studio to record those songs again with Jay and Dave for a full length album, taking a bit more time and getting a better sound (but hopefully keeping that raw MISERICORDE vibe), unfortunately, I don't expect to get any offers from anyone to release anything. I keep planning to dig out the masters from the 'Soundscapes' sessions and remix them, but they're buried deep under a pile of CD's, and I still haven't found them!
Somewhere I read that you made a contribution to a brandnew compilation with the title 'Planet Doom Vol.1', released by Doomanoid Records. What can we expect? Have you recorded a new track?
Steve from Iron Void and Doomanoid Records asked us if we'd like to contribute a track to the compilation in mid 2009. Unfortunately, at that point, we couldn't record anything new, so I said that he could pick any track he liked from the demo's, he chose 'Wicked World', which is kind of an ironic choice given the circumstances, and what the song's about. I figured that it was good to have something out there in the public domain as a swan song for the band, and we're lucky that Steve was into what we were doing and gave us the opportunity to be involved in the CD. I'm still debating whether to upload the demo's somewhere, and make them available online, but I'm not a big fan of music downloads, I want people to appreciate the music for what it is, not to just let it become another album sat on a hard disk somewhere that gets played once in a blue moon because the iPod is set to "random".
Thanks very much for your time, Murray! Is there anything you would like to add?
Thanks for being interested enough in what we did to ask the questions Klaus! I think I mentioned to you that since doing MISERICORDE, I had plenty of correspondence from people who said that they really liked YEAR ZERO, and wanted to know a bit more about the band. I always found it kind of weird gauging how we went down with fans of Hellhound and that particular style of music, because the scene was so fragmented at the time. Locally, we weren't that popular, but there plenty of other bands that were, who never got to release an album. I realise that we were also riding on the coat tails of Griff's involvement in Cathedral, and probably would have just been another one of those struggling bands had it not been for that fact.
It certainly opened a fair number of doors for us that would have stayed shut had it not been for that. I guess I look back on it from a different perspective, but always with a wry smile. At the time, I had a great time! Doing MISERICORDE was different again, being the main songwriter, guitarist and singer was certainly more intense than "just being the bass player", and it certainly gave me something to focus on during a very difficult period in my life after the accident, and with it having been part of my life for so long as a solo project, before it grew into the band.