October 01, 2012
Might as well just drop the testicles into a vice and start spinning the gears. It certainly presents a less painful alternative to releasing a sophomore follow-up to a mega-successful debut. Call it the “sophomore jinx,” or call it “the hot, blistering envy of your critics,” but second albums carry a far higher degree of difficulty than any other album in a band’s career. The bottom of rock and roll’s dark, abandoned well is littered with the bones of bands who frittered their careers away chasing the success of a massive debut. If the second album tanks, the band’s legacy is reduced to a trivia question under the “One Hit Wonders” category; but if the band pulls off a compelling, groundbreaking follow-up, then someday they might just have a date in Cleveland.
Formed in 2008, the UK press embraced Black Spiders with an awe and reverence that one might typically reserve for a cure for cancer. It wasn’t that Black Spiders had created a new style or even re-imagined an old one; what they did was play an obscenely tight blend of 70s metal and pure classic rock with meaty hooks and catchy, shout-out choruses. Sure, some critics wrapped the “stoner” label around them, but in fact their songs boasted brighter melodies and greater depth than such a simplistic classification could ever imply.
Early in their career, Black Spiders (Pete “Spider” Spiby on vocals and guitar, Ozzy “Owl” Lister and Mark “Dark Shark” Thomas on guitars, Tiger Si behind the drums and Adam “The Fox” Irwin on bass), released two critically-applauded EPs in the midst of virtual non-stop touring, supporting kindred outfits such as Airbourne, the Wildhearts, Supersuckers and Danko Jones. Their efforts yielded a rich payoff: in 2009 they played the Download Festival at Castle Donington—an honor that most bands never achieve, let alone a year after their formation. The turning point however, appeared in the guise of Ozzy Osbourne, who tapped them as his opener on the UK leg of Ozzfest after seeing them play at the iTunes festival. From that point forward, they were charmed, playing virtually every major rock festival in Britain and ultimately winning Metal Hammer’s “Best Underground Band” award at the 2010 Golden Gods.
In 2011, Black Spiders finally released their full-length debut, Sons of the North, at which point, the Universe smeared on some cheap lipstick, knelt down, and went to town on the band. Anyone who heard the record and had access to the Internet publicly hailed it as a hundred shades of awesome. Behind the pugnacious snarl of “Stay Down,” the Iommi-inspired majesty of “St. Peter” and the feloniously-catchy “KISS Tried to Kill Me,” the debut confirmed what festival audiences already knew: Black Spiders were the real deal. Unsurprisingly, as reliable commentators such as Classic Rock and Metal Hammer heralded Sons of the North as a “must have” and “pure genius,” respectively, the US music press continued to fret over snarky comments between American Idol judges. Although American rock audiences eventually jumped on board, Black Spiders have yet to tap into the hallowed US mainstream, yet in view of what they have accomplished in a few years, nothing seems out of reach.
The band are currently recording their ravenously-anticipated follow-up, steeped in critical expectations and the unchecked anticipation of a feverish fan base. Spider recently checked in with TNB Music to give an update from the studio and to answer a nagging question about Mick Jagger and Axl Rose.
So how far along are you with the new record?
In the sense of ideas, we’re way ahead of ourselves—like hands overflowing with nuts—but in terms of studio time we have 10 or so tracks recorded, but unmixed. It’s just a matter of getting the time to get into the studio to get the collection of songs finished. Being self-financed, it’s not particularly easy to pay for a block of studio time—if there is any even available—so we are having to do 3 songs at a time, between other projects that are already booked into the studio we’re recording at. “Lemon Lemon difficult,” to coin an old phrase is how we would say how it’s going.
We’re high on what we’ve achieved so far as a band, as well as the responses we get from playing live. For the new material, we’ve taken direction from what we like to call the “Black Print”: throw all the ideas into the pot and then rip up any rule book and start again. There’s a great mix of rock in our songwriting; what people like to call “classic rock” mixed with hard rock/60s garage/metal/punk, with a modern touch and a vignette of 70s/stoner rock. We keep expanding, sort of like Dr. David Banner, though you’d probably like us when we’re angry….
What kind of differences are emerging between the new material and your full-length debut, Sons of the North?
As previously mentioned we’re expanding on our signature sound. There are songs that would have fitted onto Sons of the North, but we didn’t want to just make Sons of the North II with this record, which we could have easily done. That would be way too easy, so we are definitely making it hard for ourselves, even more than usual.
Have there been any surprises along the way?
In terms of the actual approach, not really any surprises, though with the influx of riffage and song ideas, it’s been like a levee that’s bursting at its banks. We have played a few of the new songs at certain shows this year to “road test” them, and they have gone down as well as the standards in our set. It’s basically business as usual – the guitars go from A to B and the drums are along for the ride.
Sons of the North received liberal doses of critical fellatio from critics all across the globe, and especially your home turf in the UK. What kind of pressure, if any, does that add to the new record?
I guess most mere mortals would find it hard to live up to their own creative output, but we certainly haven’t let it go to our heads. We have the sort of relationship where that would never happen; we always keep each other’s feet firmly planted on the ground, but we know how to motivate each other when it counts too, so in that respect, the pressures of writing the next album have come from within the band. We are our own biggest critics and we’re all well aware of how the last album was received, but the intention is to better each album as we go along, regardless.
Pete, one of the many conclusions listeners can draw from the debut is that you are a massive fan of swearing. How much profanity can we expect on the new disc?
It’s more of a “Rock ‘n Roll Tourettes,” though we have tried to up the bar on this next record, so listen out for the profanities, we may have hidden them to get more radio play… ha ha Plenty for all the mothers out there.
Now that the song, “Kiss Tried to Kill Me” has been aired out across the globe, do you know if KISS has ever heard it and if so, what they thought?
We’ve been told that both Paul and Gene are very aware of the track itself. We have also been informed that on the current KISS/Motley Crue tour that Sons of the North is being played in the intervals, between the bands. If this is true, then I’m sure that we’re reaching their fans at least. The song was originally posted up on the official KISS online site around the album release by whomever admins that site, which was a great honor, especially as their fans are so loyal.
We’ve got to know- if you had to be stuck in an elevator with Axl Rose or Mick Jagger, who would you pick?
Probably Mick Jagger, only because we’d have to ask Axl why we were cancelled from the UK GNR dates, followed by a lot of awkward silences. Jagger has been around a lot longer too, so he would be full of anecdotes. Probably be better than having him to dinner, plus you’d get to sing along to all the muzac being pumped out of the sound system in the elevator. Though harmonizing with one of Axl’s five voices would be something special.