Spider Kitten have just released their excellent new EP Behold Mountain. Hail Sea. Venerate Sky. Bow Before Tree. and we caught up with Chris for a long and insightful interview. See what happened and all about the writing and recording process of their new EP below!
Can you introduce yourself and tell me a little about the band?
Hails! Chris West – Drums, Vocals and acoustic guitar. I would describe Spider Kitten as an organic progressive ultra heavy rock band. Most of the time we are lumped in with the ‘doom’ & ‘sludge’ metal or ‘stoner rock’ category, but like my description above I would say we are generally more experimental than a lot of other bands in our genre. Although we love and respect and take influence from many of the bands from those previously mentioned genres we tend to delve in and out of different styles and influences, utilising our love of psychadelic, industrial, punk, blues and country music as well as traditional heavy rock and metal.
We are quite prolific in our writing and recording. The brand new album will actually be our 21st release since 2001. As a band we are very autonomous. Chi our guitarist, singer and founder has just bought his own recording studio called Pentastar Studios but even before this happened he had recorded and mixed all our releases (apart from our last album Cougar Club, which he didn’t record but did mix) so we are very ‘in house’ in our approach to functioning as a band.
How did you get started?
Spider Kitten was formed in 2001 by the singer and guitarist Chi. Al the bassist, being the 2nd longest standing member, joined a few years after that in 2004. Although the band has been through many changes and line ups since our inception we are currently a 4 piece band, with this particular line up being the longest standing for about 4 years now. I joined the band in 2009 whilst still playing bass guitar in Taint, then when they disbanded in 2010 I joined permanently till this day. Rob our guitarist joined in 2010 whilst still in his band PUS which Al was the bassist in also.
You’re currently getting ready to release your new EP Behold Mountain. Hail Sea. Venerate Sky. Bow Before Tree., can you tell me about the writing and recording process?
We had been writing and planning the recording of our next full length album after our last album Cougar Club was released. But in that process we soon started to realise that it would take quite some time for us to actually start the recording process and get it released. So we had an idea to quickly, and fairly crudely, record an EP as a kind of stop-gap record to keep ourselves satisfied, and hopefully keep our fans happy until the planned new album was going to come out.
An opportunity to use the recording studio directly below our practice room for free arose so we didn’t have much time to write any new material. We decided to keep it very organic with the idea of writing some super simple, super heavy tunes with a very punk rock attitude. We basically jammed 2 or 3 riffs one evening before entering the studio the next week. The studio we recorded in was basic but had everything we could need.
I had asked my old friend Neil, who was the guitarist in my 1st band years ago, if he could help us set up the mics and basically engineer the recording. We set the drums up with a guitar amp in the same room for Chi to jam along with me. When listening back to the initial recorded test drum tracks we were astounded with how massive they sounded. I think this helped to make Chi and I realize that we may be able to record something that would be more than the simple dirgey affair we had originally planned. We basically hit record, jammed and came up with all the riffs you hear on the album on the spot.
Some people may think its detrimental to say this, but this album was essentially a mistake, albeit one that has turned into something that we are very proud of, but it is essentially true. The songs evolved on the spot with myself and Chi bouncing ideas off each other and before long we had the bare bones of the whole thing written and recorded. Al and Rob came in later in the week to add their parts.
Were there any tracks that were more of a challenge to get down?
We knew we needed something special for the final track – Gore Swan – as we had envisioned it being a 3 part song. We had jammed, written then recorded parts 1 and 3 of the track so we wanted part 2 to be something totally different and off the wall. I then had the idea of making it a classical music based middle section and we asked our friend Charlotte, who I knew from Bristol having been in Crippled Black Phoenix, if she would play cello for us. Luckily she was very into the idea! I then set out to compose this piece over the next few weeks, something that was totally new for me as I’ve only ever written riffs or songs for the instruments I can play myself.
I wanted the basis of this whole section to be based on the short bassline I had written for the middle 8th part of part 1 of the song (are you keeping up?) and then I wrote all the other cello layers that I wanted on top by humming them out of the blue as they came to me day to day, quickly recording them on my phone, and choosing which ones to use. When Charlotte came to record her parts I then sang all the layers to her and she immediately worked them out, played them back, and we hit record, layering them one by one. To be honest this whole method itself wasn’t a challenge, if anything it was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done musically, but after we had the whole thing recorded there was some things I wasn’t happy with. The flow of the whole piece seemed unnatural so we changed the order of it slightly and took some of the layers away which accentuated other parts in the piece until it all flowed perfectly.
Which track are you most proud of?
Definitely Gore Swan, for the reasons in the last answer. After hearing the whole cello section for the 1st time we noticed a natural ebb and flow akin to listening to the waves on the shore or the movement of a sea faring boat. This steered the track naturally into its final elemental nature of having the 3 parts of the track based on different natural surroundings. Part 1 was to be based on land, part 2 on sea, part 3 in the sky, it also tied in to the chorus lyrics I had written, which we eventually decided to name the album after. The whole thing naturally evolved into a theme based on the elemental forces of nature in the title, with Gore Swan itself being the crux of the whole thing.
I’m also personally proud of this track particularly as I was able to push myself further than I ever have lyrically and also in the way I sang it. Chi usually sings the main vocals in the band, with myself and Al doing backing parts, harmonies or small sections. The boys basically let me have free reign on the lyrical theme and concept on this album. Back when we had the initial jam before entering the studio I had the idea to have the concept based on Norse history and mythology as my mother is Danish. I had grown up with a fascination which still runs to this day on that whole aspect of Scandinavian history and folk lore and had always wanted to do something based on that whole theme. So when the 3 parts of the song finally came together it almost played as a film in my head, which is when we decided to add the final elements of my acoustic guitar intro and the soundscapes, narrative and samples. The outro on part 3 of Gore Swan is one of the heaviest things I have ever played on, it just seemed so natural to have the narrative spoken word part over it, again as if it were part of a never released film.
What has been your best experience in the business?
In my previous band Taint I was lucky enough to play with pretty much all my heroes, making friendships with a lot of them which still last to this day which still blows the mind of the 15 year old me haha! Playing to 20,000 people at Earls Court was pretty crazy. And festivals like Roadburn and Hellfest have been personal highlights too! And also having the opportunity to tour around the globe seeing things I could only imagine in books, making new friends wherever we went. I am a lot less busy these days being a father to 2 beautiful children so where Spider Kitten sit themselves in the ‘business’ is more than ideal for me. We are not a touring band as such, instead picking and choosing shows that we feel are important to us as a band. We do what we want when we want! What more could you ask for?
And what’s the hardest thing about being in the business?
Honestly… nothing springs to mind! I guess if we were a touring band constantly having to do things to please other people then it would start becoming less fun for me, my touring days are over haha!
What inspires you?
My kids, my wife, nature, the mind bending massiveness and clockwork-like machinations of the cosmos, history, the strongest human feelings of love and hate, ‘true’ art and ‘true’ music, the children with special needs that I work with, my parents, my friends…the list goes on…
Who are your role models and idols?
In musical terms the alpha and omega of heavy music to me is Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, they are the beginning and end, untouchable and majestic! Specifically within those two bands 2 ‘idols’ stand out – Tony Iommi and John Bonham, not much explanation is needed for this choice surely? In terms of role models I’m not sure that I have any apart from my parents. I guess it is an obvious but true choice, they have been through so much in their lives and put up with my shit when growing up haha, the way they deal with everything in their lives is awe inspiring and when I’m at a crossroads of a choice of right or wrong in life I just think, what would my father do? It usually works haha!
In terms of current bands and the ‘business’, role models to me would be Neurosis and Clutch. The way they function as bands is like a precision unit, doing what they want, when they want, and taking care of their own business side of things and not having to bow down to anyone. I’m a lucky man to have been such a massive fan of them from my younger days and to be where I am now where I can call them friends and have been backstage, front of house and side stage with them many many times from touring or playing with them, or even roadie-ing, witnessing close up how they function. Good times indeed!