Interview: James Monteith of Cage Fight
Interviewed by Tim Finch
Not content with being in one of the most successful British progressive metal bands of our time, James Monteith revisited his musical roots during lock down to vent his frustrations with society. The resulting project - Cage Fight - dropped their debut album last week. Pummelling hardcore with an injection of thrash and full of rage. We caught up with James to find out more about the project.
The Razor's Edge: James, welcome to The Razor's Edge.
James: Thanks for having me.
The Razor's Edge: First of all, people will be very familiar with you from your work in TesseracT, but we’re here today to talk about Cage Fight who I’d say are significantly less well known at present. So can you give our readers a brief introduction to the band?
James: We're a four piece thrash metal, hardcore, punk, crossover band playing in your face aggressive, angry music as an outlet for our frustration in the state of the world.
The Razor's Edge: To state the obvious for anyone who’s heard the Cage Fight songs that have dropped so far, Cage Fight’s sound is incredibly different from what we are used to from yourself. So what made you venture out into a Thrash/Hardcore/Crossover project?
James: I've always been a fan of the genre, I grew up on lots of thrash metal and hardcore. I listened to a whole range of heavy music when I was younger. My go to kind of fun aggressive music was sort of everything from Slayer through to Madball and Hatebreed. Basically just really angry aggressive music that usually has a bit of a groove and a bounce. That's always been something I've enjoyed and I think that's also crosses over into TesseracT world too.
It's always been a big interest of mine and I found some time over lock down to start exploring it a little bit with my friend John, who's the bassist. What started off basically as a bit of fun just to pass time and to do over a few beers suddenly became something a little bit bigger than that and we just ran with it.
The Razor's Edge: Would you say there's any specific hardcore or thrash bands that influenced your sound on this record?
James: Definitely. Hatebreed were a huge influence, they were one of the first bands I listened to that really managed to marry up the heaviness of metal with the punk ethos of hardcore and I think they would be one of the number one influence. Biohazard are very important band for me when that one growing up. Slayer, obviously, pretty much nearly everyone's favourite band. Then I'd say bands like Strife, their album 'In This Defiance' was a really big inspiration on me. I remember I first saw them supporting Sepultura in 1996 - a long long time ago - and became a big fan.
Stampin' Ground as well, one of the most underrated UK bands ever. Their guitar tone was a huge influence. Again, it's very metallic but they still have that hardcore attitude. So really a mixture of all of that lot!
The Razor's Edge: You can definitely hear the Stampin' Ground influence on the album. I grew up on Stampin' Ground and you can definatley hear their influence on the record.
So how did you bring the band together on this project?
James: Well, John had already been talking to Nick, the drummer, over locked down about wanting to do a project with him. They met through a mutual friend. and they hadn't actually met in person, but they had chatted online. And Rachel actually, I met her quite a while ago, back in 2014 when Tesseract were on tour in France, she was at a show and we got talking and became Facebook friends, as you do. We hadn't actually been in touch for seven years.
In February last year the project had kind of cooled down a little bit, John and I had had some fun and written a few ideas but wasn't really going anywhere. Then cover that Rachel has done popped up on my Instagram feed and that blew me away, I thought was amazing. I was amazed by her range of tones, her delivery and her profile stated she was looking for a project, so pinged her a message saying, "Hello, not spoken to in seven years. I've got this thing, you might not like it. But I thought I'd put it under your nose and see what you think." And within 24 hours she sent the demo back and that was when we realised we realised we had something going
The Razor's Edge: How quickly from those initial sessions with John did it take to bring your self titled album together.
James: It's kind of crazy, it happened really, really quickly. Before Nick and Rachel were involved, we had a bunch of ideas kicking around, we had the bones of three songs. But that was it, then from February through to July, when we recorded, we wrote everything else. The production rate was pretty crazy we were knocking out a song every few weeks.
We were pretty much writing right up to the studio, some of the finishing touches, at least in the vocals and drums, were done in the studio. We did it in a bit of a backwards way for budget reasons. We just did vocals and drums in the studio with the guide guitars that I pre-recorded. Then I took those away to my home studio and re-did all the final guitars. I guess there was a bit more of the writing process there with all the layers and the solos, the icing on top. The album was properly finished by the end of September.
Our work rate was very high, I was quite quite amazed by it. We just clicked, we all connect very well and it was really easy. I'd bring an idea, somebody would say I want to do this or let's do that and it works. Brilliant. Right. Next one! It was just kind of the production line ongoing, and it's worked out.
The Razor's Edge: So we talked about your influences earlier. Listening to the album I heard Terror, Stampin’ Ground even late 90’s Assert in there. How pleased are you with the final result?
James: I remember Assert back in the late 90s, they were everywhere. Overall, I'm really pleased, I think to be honest, a little over a year ago, I had no idea I'd be making this album. So to suddenly go from it just being like a bit of fun in my shed to the end of last week we're putting an album out on Candlelight Records is absolutely insane.
I've listened to it quite a bit since we finished it in September. There's definitely little things I'd like to change or just spend some time on. But I think everyone does that with a record so those niggly things aside. Yeah, I'm really pleased with how it turned out.
The Razor's Edge: Obviously the tracks bare the frustrations of the past few years, how much does recent events, cultural wrongs, the bullshit of the world at large fuel the Cage Fight fire?
James: Quite a lot. All of us have frustrations, opinions on the status of world politics and get pissed off about various things. And one reason why I did want to do a hardcore record was to be able to express some of these these things. Tesseract is very apolitical, it's very much about concepts and "out there" things, which is great it's like escapism entertainment. I want to do something where we do directly comment on some issues, and we might ruffle some feathers and piss some people off and get people having conversations.
There was enough of that over the lockdown period to feed off. Like the Black Lives Matter movement. The murder of George Floyd, it was a global kind of movement where amazing things were happening. The statue of the slave trader in Bristol, for example, was brought down. I thought that was quite an inspiring time really when people were like, "No, I've had enough" and in one moment they looked to rise up, really stand up against racism. Although a lot of the anger is about how often racism is I think we're inspired by the positivity of people getting up and making a stand against it.
Also, lots of things around the #metoo movement, which kicked off again with Sarah Everard getting murdered by police officer, and the whole question about women's safety. That was another big one that got us thinking got us talking.
The whole fact of the rich poor divide across the world has immensely grown over COVID and times of tragedy, the wealthiest people or even richer and the poorest people are suffering.Energy companies are essentially using the war in Ukraine as an excuse to push out bills up by 50%. I do understand a tiny bit of economics and supply and demand and why that needs to happen. But most of my understanding is a lot of these oil companies they stockpile it anyway, they limit the amount that they are releasing, so they are driving the price up and using a war as an excuse to basically take from the poorest people again, and it's brutal capitalism, which I fundamentally don't agree with. I'm not completely away with fairies, a sort of secret kind of socialist thinking we should all live in this kind of equal world. I understand that's not how the world works. But I do think that we're in a really broken capitalist system at the moment, which isn't working for 90% of the world and that's been highlighted over the last few years.
Conspiracy theorists! That's another thing that's been pissing us off. We've got a song specifically about that, the sharing of misinformation and how dangerous that is, and how it creates massive problems. Anyway, sorry, I'm rambling... [laughs]
The Razor's Edge: No, it's good to see what fuels the songwriting process to be honest.
So I wanted to mention the title track from the album specifically. You got the fans to record a chant and you’ve mixed that in there. Hopefully my voice made the cut too.
James: Yeah, you did! Your name is on the credits, It'll be on the on the actual record and credited everybody in the gang vocals.
The Razor's Edge: What triggered you incorporating the fans into the record?
James: Again, it was just something that naturally happened. We didn't plan it. I remember we had a rehearsal and then everyone came back to mine. It was a hot summer's day, it was like in June, we had a barbecue and we'd had a few drinks. John had an idea for us to record that chant, so we recorded it ourselves and it was what it was like, what can we do this? I'd had a few beers, so I thought it'd be a funny idea to stick like classic James Brown Hip Hop beat, that 80s and Straight Outta Compton. And we're like "oh, that really works, but we need to make this more gang and how can we make some bigger?" Our four voices wasn't enough!
Rachel suggested that we just do a call out as we had a few people are following us on socials at that point. See if they'd be up contributing, and we'd credit them. We had about 25 odd people send in the chant, some sent multiple takes and we used them all so we've got like 40 different takes together and works quite well. I think it's just a really nice touch to have to get the early people who are paying attention, looking at what we're doing and get involved and get them on record.
The Razor's Edge: You’ve been playing shows all over the place of late. How have you been received, especially given at this point [a few days before the records release] you have just three songs and a demo out in the public domain.
James: It's been, it's been really good actually, I've really, really, really enjoyed shows. We did Primordial Festival the other week, that was really positive and primordial Radio has really been pushing some of the tracks which really helps. Prior to that, we did two gigs with Napalm Death and we went down a storm with their crowd, the metal crowd definitely seem to tune into it.
We did a show with Svalbard, that was that was cool and we did Upsurge Festival, which I'm I don't count that because my amp blew up and I have to use the house gear which was really bad and Nick broke the kick drum so we didn't have that for half the set.
Overall we've been going down quite well. The hardcore purists world, I don't know how well we fit in there, some of them look a bit confused. Overall, the response has been really good and I can't wait for people to actually hear the record and see what they think.
The Razor's Edge: You’ve got some high profile shows coming up. A tour with the Cro-Mags, dates with Sepultura, Uprising Festival, Bloodstock, and probably more I’ve missed. Once the album drops is the focus now on touring the hell out of it and raising your profile?
James: Yeah, basically do what we can to get as many people as possible and try and grow a little bit. In the autumn we're looking to do something, I'm kind of not quite sure what yet. We want to basically play as much as we can this year and make the most make the most of this quiet time where I don't have any TesseracT activities. Fill my time with another band.
The Razor's Edge: Long term what happens next. Do you see Cage Fight running alongside Tesseract competing for your time for the foreseeable future?
James: Everything's happened so quickly, I've not really had a proper chance to think about how to manage that. I think that they can work together, TesseracT's fifth album is being recorded this summer and it'll come out next year at some point. Until then TesseracT is not busy so it gives us an opportunity to do the work we want to do. Obviously, when TesseracT kicks in, and I'm not gonna be able to do this much, but I'm hoping maybe with some festivals next year, there'll be a chance to try and kind of do a bit of both. We'll just have to basically play it by ear and see see how it works. I definitely want to pursue this as much as possible, because it's a lot of fun!