With Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs’ much anticipated second album King Of Cowards boxed-off, we chewed the fat with the Newcastle five-piece.
It’s a Monday afternoon. One day of the week down, four of the fuckers to go. Speaking to two of the members from Newcastle quintet Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, frontman Matt Baty and guitarist Adam Ian Sykes, and I suspect they are feeling a bit the same.
My first encounter with Pigs X 7 was in the scorching thirty-five degree heat of the Australian summer. That introduction consisted of a bludgeoning debut album, Feed the Rats, causing shockwaves to the equilibrium. After many months spent digesting this three track opus, their appearance at the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia last September didn’t disappoint and in fact only enhanced the notion of their status as, indeed, Kings of the North.
Playing to a roomful of sweaty-faced punters crammed and moving across the room akin to motion of the sea, it was an experience. They performed Feed the Rats from front to back, like one big clusterfuck of low end blues-inspired drone-rock. Baty was the centrepiece, running around shirtless with a pink cowboy hat, chewing microphones and scaling amplification equipment, à la Iggy Pop, Cedric Bixler, Tim Harrington and Matt Korvette. Yet another frontman that holds no bounds in the realms of disorder.
“I’m forever competing with guitar amps!” laughs Matt Baty, a jovial personality, but possessing an edge. A deep thinker. So too Sykes, who is more quietly spoken, his traditional Geordie accent welcoming on this Monday evening after listening to an office full of optimistic Scousers talking football ahead of the season opener against West Ham.
One of the benefits of smoking is striking up random conversations and at a music festival with like-minded folk you’re basically halfway there to meeting new people. That was the fortunate position I found myself in when meeting Baty and guitarist Sam Grant at last year’s Liverpool Psych Fest after their bruising live set.
“Oh yeah, I remember you, we were having a rather in-depth conversation about the Sleaford Mods!” recalls Baty.
Our conversation turns to fellow Geordie, Richard Dawson, whom Baty knows very well. He and Pigs‘ bassist, John-Michael Hedley, together shape Dawson’s rhythm section as drummer and bassist respectively, behind the latter’s spell-binding diatribes.
“I met Richard years ago,” starts Baty. “It was in a Spanish restaurant who were doing an open mic night for left field abstract stuff. His band went on and he read this beautiful poem, about his cats which had all died, reducing everyone to tears. It found its way there. I had to play in his band!”
While many local artists, including Dawson, spent years traipsing the Newcastle scene, things evolved quickly for Pigs X 7. In 2013 on the back of releasing a split with The Cosmic Dead, the gut-busting The Wizard and the Seven Swines, Pigs supported Swedish psychsters Goat and from there shows developed away from Tyneside, in Glasgow, Bristol, and London. Since then the band have become familiar with the M and A roads in this country, not to mention trekking through Europe, dominating the paint deprived and decayed brick of run-down venues that could be classed as glorified squalors.
This is where this band prosper, though. Their live show is intense, loose, primal, roaring with incandescent rancour. There’s a jokey, piss-taking element to it, too, which ultimately separates them from their contemporaries. There’s an ostensible locality. Band members passing around bottles of wine with mock football chants unfolding before launching into ball-tearingly loud concoctions of blues, cow, stoner and sludge rock.
Which brings us to King Of Cowards. The brilliantly titled and, quite frankly, excellent sophomore long-player from the Newcastle five-piece. An album that delivers the staple Pigs X 7 fury in shorter bursts. An album that, should Steve Lamacq open up his heart beyond IDLES, then he may just find a space for King Of Cowards.
“Ideas for Feed the Rats came over a long period of time,” says Skyes. “Riffs eventually became longer, which ended with the songs being as long as they were. With King Of Cowards we approached it differently. We gave ourselves a deadline. Most of the songs were written in a short space of time.”
Baty then follows, explaining his own writing process.
“Ideas started, you know, when you’re half asleep then words pop in then you grab your phone,” he says. “Also early in the morning, which was strange because I’m not a morning person at all.”
Those aforementioned songs took shape in a barnyard somewhere in Italy. A fitting milieu for a band possessing such a moniker.
“We work really well together,” says Skyes. “Sam [Grant] will bring a lot to the table. We kind of work against each other which is good – a lot of back and forth.
“With any democratic process there will be debate,” adds Baty. “It’s healthy. There needs to be that for the music to be as good as it is.”
From there, King Of Cowards was the first album to be recorded in Grant’s newly relocated Blank Studios in the band’s native Newcastle.
Another notable change to the Pigs‘ set-up is the introduction of new drummer, Chris Morley (Gnod and Queer’d Science fame), who occupies the skins adding the raw blood and bones behind the band’s sound.
“There were other drummers but really I don’t think it would have worked. Chris was the perfect candidate,” admits Skyes.
“Chris was one of the founding members of Gnod. He was driving up regularly for rehearsals but now he lives in Newcastle,” adds Baty.
The results are glorious. Filthy guitar licks and two fingers to the sky glorious. In many ways ‘Cowards can be seen as a departure from Feed the Rats. For starters, their exposure has arguably cross-pollinated with BBC 6 Music listenership quite considerably. While deemed more accessible, it’s still very much a Pigs record in essence.
It all kicks off with GNT. The album’s lead single and most instantly capturing song. It puts weight behind the notion of accessibility. Richard Dawson also returns the favour, making a guest appearance (he also plays synthesiser on A66).
“We spent a lot of time over the track list to try and make it flow. We wanted a good intro,” says Skyes. With GNT, Pigs X 7 certainly nail this aspect.
Less of the doom-laden Sabbath pastiche, and more of a brush of the shoulders with the venerable Pissed Jeans, it’s the first demonstration of Baty’s primordial vocals, howling the album title’s words into the void. However, it’s his opening vocal encounter which proves to be a catalyst for the album.
“Lord have pity on me and of mercy on me / God’s not easy to please / so get down on your knees / it’s not so easy to see the hidden meaning of greed / it’s a snake with a line/ a shape with only one eye.”
Shockmaster follows and with it more demon references. Where Baty‘s subject professes to being a demon in Feed the Rats‘ crushing closer, Icon, with Shockmaster, the protagonist suggests that demons, humans and angels are nice.
It’s a rigid affair, and one that could have easily slipped into the middle passage of Sleep’s Holy Mountain. There’s also remnants of the brooding junctures that comprise Black Sabbath. The thread consisting of the seven deadly sins is essentially what forms the spine of King Of Cowards, with references dripping from each song.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision,” says Baty when asked whether it was intentional or the sub-conscious playing games. “I’ve never sat down and wrote lyrics with a pad and pen. It’s more improvisation through school of thought. Finding space to open up my voice in a primal way. Over time, patterns begin to emerge and words and sentences start to creep out and form.
“I’m not there yet,” continues Baty, referring to traditional song-writing methods. “I don’t know whether I ever will. I have tried but just seem to get writer’s block.”
It’s an intriguing method. One that I had initially not heard of, which then got me thinking that my own sub-conscious was playing games. Because there are many bands floating around that have that frayed, acid-damaged Sabbath thread. Gnod, Pigs‘ label mates, Hey Colossus, not to mentioned the latter’s offshoot, Henry Blacker, along with several others to boot. As a listener, though, it’s Pigs X 7 that have captured the imagination the most.
Which leads us to the album title. A striking one. Something you’d expect from cow-punk veterans, The Jesus Lizard, or Killdozer. So, how was the title conceived?
“The day of Liverpool Psych Fest!” says Baty, laughing. “We were at our rehearsal space and Adam picked up a discarded wine bottle and brandished it towards me. Then I said, ‘King of Cowards’!”
Funnily enough, as the conversation develops, it comes to light that a similar incident transpired outside the band’s rehearsal space prior to the release of Feed the Rats.
It involved a police officer driving past and stopping as a piece of pizza was thrown in his path. No names of the potential assailants, of course.
“We thought, fuuuck…” starts Baty. “The police officer got out of his car then before he drove off he just said to us Feed… The… Rats…”
Stories like this are the fabric of the Pigs X 7 patchwork. Then there’s the tongue-in-cheek head nod to Sabbath with show-stopper Sweet Relief. Of course, it doesn’t end there.
“It is!” laughs Baty, confirming that the motorik metal jam that is A66 is indeed referenced to a particular British road, – the A road which runs via Scotch Corner to Penrith. “It was one of the most dangerous roads in the UK. Like Thumbsucker, these tracks are not without tongue-in-cheek.”
Which leads us to the penultimate track, Cake of Light – the cut which most grew familiar with the prior to ‘Cowards‘ release. It’s immersed in grubby downtrodden blues, with the Pigs taking the baton in an attempt to bastardise the genre even further. And bastardise further they do.
Then there’s the final number, Gloamer, which caps off the King Of Cowards in stunning fashion.
“That was one of the last tracks for the album. We had a good amount for the record then Johnny [Medley] brought in this riff. It came together quickly,” says Sykes.
The title itself sounds like something Richard Dawson could have conjured up. With Skyes adding keys to this track, it begins with Baty’s pensive yet brusque call to arms.
“Eat, your forbidden fruits / guilt doesn’t know you now / think with an open mind / feel like you are loved.”
From there the avalanche of noise will have most creaking under the weight of despair. It illuminates another theme that is prevalent throughout King Of Cowards – the emphasis of guilt. It’s an emotion that feels as though there is nothing to come back from. Evidently, this train of thought is the clear distinction between cynicism and optimism.
“Yeah, it’s a debilitating feeling where you can close in on yourself. On the flipside you can take away positivity – activism, vegetarianism, veganism. It’s kind of about that, really,” says Baty.
It feels like the angriest songs the band has written to date. It’s a savage closer and one that will sound even more visceral in the band’s natural habitat of the sweaty bear pit, more commonly known as the live arena.
In support of King Of Cowards, Pigs X 7 have embarked on their largest tour to date, including shows in Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium and Holland before rounding off their tour in the UK with Liverpool currently scheduled as the penultimate date at the end of November. Undoubtedly, sonic assaults will unfurl night-in-night-out with a swathe of new tracks to snake in and out of the Feed the Rats material, no doubt burning minds in the process.
“With these new songs, we will have more freedom to pick and choose. There’s still a few tracks we haven’t played live yet,” says Skyes, also admitting that the new songs could certainly bleed into one another in a live sense. When listening to the album, these tracks certainly have that potential.
With Europe in mind and the never-ending saga that is Brexit, the fear is that bands like Pigs X 7 will suffer from potential laws surrounding free movement. Still, the issue continues to be muddied in the realm of “who the fuck knows?”
“Whatever your opinion is, the logistics are a nightmare, any kind of structure,” admits Baty. “Touring is wonderful at the moment, you can catch a plane or ferry then just get around from country to country.”
We finish up by talking about Baty‘s label, Box Records. Home to acts such as Terminal Cheesecake and House of Slaughter.
“No No. It’s a labour of love!” admits Baty, when asked whether he could make the label a full-time job alongside his band commitments (he like most of us, has a full-time job). “We all have many plates to spin. Putting out fires. The label has picked up, though, which is good.”
They are the purveyors of perfecting the riff. To the point where some would suggest a name change to Riffs X 7. However, Pigs X 7 suits this bunch down to the ground. Knuckles-in-dirt gritty riff-a-rolla with an anthemic swing. It’s not lads and lager. There’s not too much beard, either. It’s raucous, it’s real, it’s dyed-in-the-wool Newcastle.
“We feel lucky to be doing what we’re doing at this point of time. It’s hard to say whether it would have had the same impact ten years before or ten years from now,” admits Skyes.
“It’s a movement that’s flourishing,” adds Baty. “It’s been here for years and years but the conditions are there. We’re privileged to do what we do and see amazing bands, being exposed to great music and great people.”