Interview: The Black Hounds.
Interviewed by Paul Hutchings
August 14th sees the release of Wolverhampton groove metal outfit The Black Hounds’ debut album ‘Colossus’. A fine piece of work, it’s the culmination of years of hard graft and incremental progress. The Black Hounds formed in 2013, releasing two EPs before a line-up change saw the arrival of guitarist Connor Hadfield alongside Ant Wright (vocals/guitar), drummer Joe Cleaver and bassist Tom Fellows. As the country sweltered, Paul spoke to an ice cool Ant (in his air-conditioned studio) and Joe.
The Razor's Edge: Welcome to The Razor’s Edge guys. I know you’ve had previous encounters with the site through M2TM but it’s good to talk to you. Can we get the inevitable questions out of the way first? How has lockdown been for you both personally and as a band?
Ant: Personally, it’s been a nice break but as a band, and I’m sure Joe will agree we were in a fortunate position going into lockdown of doing the mixing and mastering and the behind the scenes stuff. So, although it’s been inconvenient not to go to the studio, some of the stuff has had to be done by email. But we love playing, jamming, making a noise together and I’ve found that difficult, not being able to pack the gear in the car and get to the rehearsals for three hours and blast it out. It has given us time to get everything sorted for the album and we’ve gone through everything with a fine tooth comb, the merch, the social media, the management, everything has been sorted and we’ve been pretty productive.
Joe: I’ve got a six-month-old baby at home and I’ve worked through all the lockdown period, so I’ve been busy [at which point Ant remembered he has a young child at home too!] I think we will feel it now that the album is launching with not much happening on the live gig front.
The Razor’s Edge: Was the album written and recorded before lockdown?
Ant: Fortunately, all the final tweaks were finished about three weeks before all this kicked off. It was a case of mixing and mastering and I think we got quite lucky there because if we’d still had vocals or guitar parts to finish, we’d have been releasing the album next year!
The Razor’s Edge: Is 14th August the planned release date or have you put it back?
Joe: In terms of announcing any dates, that’s the only one announced, but we had an initial time frame which was a couple of months earlier. It’s worked out well though.
Ant: Yes, we had planned it to coincide with M2TM, and we were going to do promo and gigs around that, and it would have flown together. So, it’s allowed us to iron out the creases and go over things again.
The Razor’s Edge: This is the first release to feature Connor, is that right?
Ant: Yes, different guitarist but the rest of the band are still here.
The Razor’s Edge: And when did the change in guitarist take place?
Joe: About two – three years ago.
The Razor’s Edge: 2019 was a big year for the band. You got to the final of M2TM, was that your first time entering?
Ant: We entered the year before (Joe had a six-month hiatus), when Ashen Crown won it, and we got through to the final. We did well, but we had a fluctuating line-up at the time. We then got Connor on board, wrote some new songs, and it was good for the band. We had begun rehearsing just before the first heat and by the time we got to the final we were well up for it. It put us back on the map.
The Razor’s Edge: In South Wales, the scene was buzzing throughout. Was it similar for you?
Ant: It was the first gig where I felt we were together. We worked hard and everyone got really focused. We took it seriously but the new focus coming out of it was great.
Joe: I came back to the band before M2TM so when I came back, we had two or three rehearsals and I had never played with Joe before M2TM so we got the kick up the arse we needed. We got nominated for Best Metal Band in the Black Country Music Awards as well, and that was due to our focus and determination to get it out there as we hadn’t written any other music at the time.
The Razor’s Edge: You were pipped at the post by Elyrean in the final. What happened after the final? How did you push on?
Ant: We got a few gigs, but we had re-established ourselves as a live band and we focused on writing, rehearsing old stuff so Connor could put his own stamp. We’ve pushed on to the next level and I wanted to focus. We spent a lot of time discussing every element. We focused on the recording and the art and stuff. It was the behind the scenes stuff that was our focus.
The Razor’s Edge: The new album is really enjoyable. How do you describe your music for someone who hasn’t heard it?
Joe: The go to word is groove. It’s a stomping, bang your head type feel. Everything has an underlying groove. We try to stay away, not consciously, from the thrashy, blast beat stuff. We like to mix it up with the two vocal styles which is something Connor has brought to the table. That’s taken us to a heavier realm.
Ant: I wasn’t really into the growling vocals and we demoed ‘Colossus’ and we were in rehearsals and Connor said “you do that part of the vocals and I’ll do this bit”, and I though that would be cool to have someone else share the singing and he came out with this growl!! It was amazing and we thought we’d roll with that. I think that was a turning point.
The Razor’s Edge: A lot of bands can overdo the contrast and I think you’ve got it right. Were you conscious of that?
Joe: I was. We’ve become known for Ant’s vocals, his high-pitched wailing as I like to describe it! The growls are there to supplement that and not vice versa. There’s a lot of stuff on the album, like ‘Defy Messiah’, ‘Crown of Bones’, and Ant’s vocals needed to be the predominant thing you could hear but there is the underlying growl, more of a backing vocal, and then the growls are used more on the heavier tracks like ‘Ruthless’, so I think they have been used in the right places.
Ant: With ‘Ruthless’, we had recorded that with clean vocals all the way through, and we sat around, and I said, “I’m not feeling it and I don’t know why”. Nobody could put a finger on why that was. We re-recorded and changed some of the lyrics over and then Connor did the growls on the verses and it came to life. So, it was a conscious decision and it’s worked.
The Razor’s Edge: The reception so far has been very positive. You must be pleased.
Joe: Really pleased.
Ant: Absolutely. We had a review about an hour ago and one of the quotes was “the rhythm was like an automatic nail gun”!
The Razor’s Edge: That’s down to you is it Joe?
Ant: He’s a machine. He’s always first in when recording. When we did the first EP, we had a separate live room and we are in the control room. Joe was there eating some protein bread and he got set up and was head down. It got to about 11:30 and we decided to go down the pub and we got back two hours later, and he was still head down, hammering away.
The Razor’s Edge: How many of the tracks on the album will your fans already know?
Joe: The only one we’ve played live is ‘Defy Messiah’. Oh and ‘Part of the Machine’ which we played a version of at M2TM.
The Razor’s Edge: The album was released on Friday. You’ve been doing a lot of social media, Facebook in particular. Is social media comfortable or is adaptation by necessity?
Joe: I’ve had to adapt. I tried to steer clear of social media in my life, but it has become the new norm for getting yourself out there. Before we’d post maybe twice a week but now it is almost every day, just to keep people interested. Facebook is the main outlet.
Ant: It is a medium we must use, particularly now. We can’t get out to play gigs to make them listen, so we have to do other stuff.
The Razor’s Edge: We’ve just had the EMAF streams over the weekend for Bloodstock. Have you done any live streams; have you been tempted?
Joe: We haven’t done anything. I’m not tempted. We have an outdoor gig in September, socially distanced. We are focused on what we can do, not what we can’t. So, an outdoor gig, even to 20 people, so be it.
Ant: A big point of our live shows is interaction with the crowd. I’m old school, I don’t want to stand there looking at my shoes saying thanks very much and leaving people to it. I want people to get involved so doing that to a camera? I can’t do that. I do want to see circle pits at Drive in Shows, like a destruction derby!
The Razor’s Edge: Tell me a bit more about the outdoor gig.
Joe: It’s been sorted by Matt Edwards, our management company Unearthed music. It’s a biker bar, and they are using the outdoor stage with 40 capacity, in line with current guidance. The offer came up to play and it was a no brainer. A chance to give the new stuff a whirl.
Ant: It’ll be different; just a chance to get out and play. That is why everyone gets in a band; I don’t want to change the world. So, the opportunity was too good to miss. It’s a one off but obviously there may be similar opportunities. Everywhere wants the live scene to keep going so if we can play to 40 people outside then we’ll do that.
The Razor’s Edge: If Covid hadn’t happened, did you have plans for the launch?
Ant: We would have had some gigs in venues we’ve played before. Then looking to expand out. We wanted to get out and play, maybe not conquer the world but you get the idea. As soon as we can get back out there, and venues confirm, we’ll be back out playing again.
The Black Hounds 'Colossus' is out now on all good streaming platforms. You can check out our album review here.