Mark Keds will be familiar to some from the indie punk band Senseless Things, and later Jolt and the Lams. Mark McCarthy still plays bass with the Wonder Stuff, and used to give his instrument a mean kicking in Queen Adreena, plus also played with Mick Jones of the Clash. Jerome Alexandre was in the punk band The Skuzzies and has also done spoken word collaboration in ‘A Warning to the Curious’ with Nina Antonia. Trevor Sharpe on drums cut his teeth in Miranda Sex Garden and Mediæval Bæbes. All this said, it is clear that there is a real melting pot of influences and experience at work in Deadcuts.
Having seen the band live quite a few times since they formed in early 2012, gigs getting better, audiences growing larger and the 7-inch vinyl of the first single ‘Kill Desire’ selling out, I took the opportunity to find out a bit more about what makes the band tick and what tricks they have up their sleeve for the New Year.
ANNE: You guys have been gigging quite a bit recently, and you're also recording at the moment. Are things hotting up for Deadcuts?
KEDS: Yeah, we’re very busy at the moment – the gigs are definitely inspiring the recordings and vice versa. We’ve been playing a lot of low key shows on the quiet to break in the new songs. We’re blessed with venues and opportunities to play local where we’re based, in East London.
ANNE: You played your first gig at the Signal Gallery in March 2012. Why did you choose an art gallery as your first gig venue?
McCARTHY: Right from the start, Deadcuts wanted to combine art and music and Trxtr’s show at Signal was a perfect setting for our first live performance. We’d been playing together less than a month when the gallery offered us the slot. Trxtr went on to design our first single sleeve.
ANNE: Deadcuts played a blistering live set at the Water Rats in King’s Cross in the summer (and also more recently at The Dublin Castle in Camden). As I mentioned in the gig review at the time, one couldn't help but notice the chemistry between Keds and Jerome on guitar on stage. Would you say that you are the Toxic Twins/Blood Brothers of this band? How did you meet and how did you end up making music together?
KEDS: We met many, many moons ago through a second hand clothes shop in Covent Garden – our girls were both working there at the time. We’d been close for a long time before it occurred to us both that playing music together might be a really, really good fucking idea.
JEROME: Blood – yes, it’s an integral part of Deadcuts – the fire in our blood!
KEDS: The toxicity of our tempestuous relationships and our unshakeable faith in the music we’re creating.
ANNE: And how did Mark McCarthy get involved?
McCARTHY: I’d been talking to Mark about starting up a new band since the night he disbanded the Lams at the Scala, where I was Djing. He and Jerome booked a rehearsal at the Fortress in Old Street and when it didn’t work out with the first drummer, a friend of Jerome’s, I invited them down with Joni Belaruski (who was on drums before Trevor Sharpe joined) to the Old Queen’s Head in Brixton where I was living at the time and the rest is history!
ANNE: How are Deadcuts songs born?
KEDS: Jerome and I usually sketch the arrangements and melodies around my lyrics before we take the rough idea into Trevor and McCarthy. It’s not a rule but that’s pretty much how it usually works. We don’t ‘jam’ though we may try out different rhythms and root notes. We record a lot of ideas together.
ANNE: What about the lyrics? You do spoken word performance as well?
KEDS: I write about whatever comes to mind – everything and anything can inspire me. The world’s a beautiful and fucked up place and there’s never a dull moment - god so many things! I don’t shy away from any subject matter – a lot of the Deadcuts songs are written straight out from my diaries, some lyrics just conjured up free styling when we’re playing together. There’s no hard and fast rules although I think I’m right in saying the lyrics always come first. I haven’t done any spoken word gigs for a while – it’s an art and something I found equally challenging and rewarding. Years ago I didn’t have a guitar though I was writing all the time and I used to go down to this great little bar in the basement of St. Matthew’s Church in Brixton once a month – the first Wednesday I think. There used to be this incredible open mic evening. Such talented performers, writers, poets, rappers, singers and I just wanted to get up and hold my own… Words they got their own rhythm and their own melody. When spoken word’s good it’s mesmerising. Such a powerful medium.
ANNE: When the band was formed, did you already have an idea of what you wanted the band to sound like?
KEDS: When we first rented that room McCarthy mentioned, we really had no idea how it would turn out – we were friends for a long time although Jerome and I had only just started playing together. A pleasant surprise would be a serious understatement! I guess we all bring a lot of years and a lot of different experience to the group’s sound – everything we’ve all been exposed to and lucky for us that chemistry really gels and creates something truly unique and original.
ANNE: Since you first started the band in 2012, how has your music evolved over time? Having heard the rough demos of some of the newer songs, to me it sounds like you are leaning towards a simpler, dare I say bleaker sound. These spellbinding newer songs seem to work incredibly well live with the older, sonically more expansive tracks.
KEDS: It’s more sparse. The songs have space, room to breathe – when we started Deadcuts it was a blistering, relentless wall of sound. It was cool; it was one dimensional. Now we’re learning daily… Subtleties that the Deadcuts of 2012 daren’t even dream…
ANNE: Jerome, you've been a fixture in various London bands for years, including The Skuzzies and Automata. You also recently played with Sylvain Sylvain on his UK tour. Do you feel like you've found your final spiritual home with Deadcuts?
JEROME: I’ve found my calling certainly – I can experiment more with my guitar sounds as well as approaching vocals in a totally different way, and I have been mainly drawing inspiration from film rather than music, such as ‘Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome’ by Kenneth Anger or ‘Blood of a Poet’ by Jean Cocteau. Mark has taught me a lot by pushing me to give my absolute best in any creative situation be it songwriting or in the studio, and in some ways I’d say I was pretty lazy until I started playing for Deadcuts.
ANNE: Deadcuts opened for Babyshambles at Brixton Academy back in September. What was the reception from the crowd like?
The crowd were great and a lot of them had heard about us from our trip to Paris earlier in the year. Peter has been incredibly supportive and I know for a fact he thinks it’s the best band that Mark and I have ever done. After the show Peter, his 10 year old son Astile and I had to leg it to the tour bus and were practically ripped to pieces by the fans, Astile didn’t seem to be phased at all.
ANNE: Mark Keds, you co-wrote The Libertines hit ‘Can’t Stand Me Now’, are there any plans to collaborate on any songs with Doherty?
KEDS: We’ll write together again no doubt. Just so long as neither of us dies in the meantime!
ANNE: I heard that you, Jerome, had a close call with the French police at the border on that trip to Paris, what happened?
JEROME: We were told about the show a day or two in advance, in typical Peter style, and I didn’t even have a passport. Now most bands would leave it there but I knew deep down I’d hate myself forever if we didn’t get there, so I decided with the aid of my protection Rune, Valium and a duvet I’d test my luck and the band could smuggle me in, it helped that we had a nice tour vehicle… Not that it made much difference when we crashed into the customs/passport control office!
ANNE: Mark, lots of people will remember you from Senseless Things. How does it feel this time round - do you feel Deadcuts are the best thing you've ever done? You were also in Jolt and the Lams, tell us a bit about those times? You were battling your demons at the time, I believe.
KEDS: I’ve been in a lot of great live bands yet I’ve still never made an album I’m happy with. Jolt came close with ‘Punk Jungle Rules’, the Lams never even released a single – ‘Anarchy or Death’ was a posthumous collection of demos I’d made over that period, in the brief breaks from my crippling heroin addiction. Finally, with Deadcuts, the way the recordings have been going so far, I genuinely feel my best work is just around the corner. The songs, the sound of the four of us playing together, the fact that we’re all located close to each other in east London, the studio and the live performances – the omens are all fortuitous. As for the demons? They’re our friends now.
ANNE: I sometimes see on your Facebook pages that you call Deadcuts “the best band in London”. Why do you think you're better than the rest of them?
KEDS: When it’s your turn it’s your turn.
JEROME: When it comes to songwriting or performance, I can sniff out the liars a mile off, in other words if I feel they are vicariously living through someone else’s misery or trying to be something they are not then it’s game over and we live in the age of the Fugazi... One thing Deadcuts will never do is lie. I really love Lana Del Rey’s music and decided to watch her new film the other night which sole purpose is to “reflect Lana’s world” and there was a scene where she is reciting Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ which talks about the desperation of being half deranged and strung out and I know for a fact that Lana Del Rey knows nothing of that particular horror.”
ANNE: I think you may have a point there. You love your arts so this will be an easy question for you to answer. If Deadcuts were a film/poem/book, which film/poem/book would you be and why?
JEROME: Burroughs’ ‘Junkie’ needs no explanation. Donald Cammell’s ‘Performance’ neither. Kenneth Anger’s ‘Invocation of My Demon Brother’ because it’s the reflection of the unnerving atmosphere that we create with our music. Also, ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ by Mark Twain.
KEDS: Arthur Koestler’s ‘Darkness at Noon, or Michael Herr’s ‘Dispatches’. Deadcuts is an intense band no doubt.
McCARTHY: Blue Velvet’ by David Lynch. That’s the mood most definitively!
ANNE: Mark, you studied history of art as a young man. How does art, visual or otherwise, influence your work these days? And who are some of your favourite artists?
KEDS: Yeah, I studied art history at South Thames College in Wandsworth and Putney– I loved it though I was already playing a lot of music and must have missed about half the classes playing gigs even back then. I love Wyndham Lewis, though I never studied him, the post-impressionists - a lot of French artists from the turn of the last century, the printmasters of Japan… God so many… Rossetti I particularly like… Dali… Picasso… Monet… Munch… I’m just regurgitating names – I like art. I like looking at beautiful things.
ANNE: You all have quite an impressive CV in music. Have any of you ever thought of doing anything else?
JEROME: I did some acting in a film called ‘The Second Coming’ by indie filmmaker Richard Wolstencroft. I basically had to play a drug addled musician obsessed with the occult and in one of my final scenes I perform Aleister Crowley’s ‘Hymn to Pan’ ritual in the snow at night. I managed to get Peter a part in the film too, I’ve only seen very rough edits of the film and to be honest it makes me a little sad.
KEDS: I’ve done plenty of other things, trust me and I was hopeless at them all. McCarthy’s a great barber though!
ANNE: The life of any artist always paints the picture (excuse the pun) of a somewhat glamorous struggle against the norm in this robotic society that we live in. What is it like for you, living your lives as full-time musicians? Especially now, trying to break a new band?
JEROME: It depends on the era I suppose. We could hardly say Mozart’s was he died penniless in and was thrown into a mass grave. Unfortunately we live in the age where everyone seems to think they can do it despite having a serious lack of the key elements like imagination or soul. I do think Deadcuts are very fortunate in the sense that we have an audience, we write great songs and have resurrected an archetype that’s been missing for a long time. For each opportunity that’s available to new bands and artists there is an equally stubborn brick wall designed to discourage them - but that doesn’t mean it can’t be smashed down.
ANNE: The band is currently in the recording studio. How is that going and will there be an album coming up?
KEDS: We started recording an EP in October and also a cover version of the Gun Club’s ‘Walking With the Beast. The backing tracks turned out so good we’ve just kept going. Speedowax want to press a vinyl full length LP so that’s the goal. We’re pretty much either writing, playing a gig or recording in the studio daily now. I love it – the speed we realise our ideas is so totally inspiring and refreshing. I feel like I was born to live in this time – where writing, recording and publishing globally (online) is almost an immediate, simultaneous activity. Gone are the days of spending weeks demoing and in pre-production and then waiting months for a label to find a slot in a busy release schedule. We write. We record. We upload out-takes regularly to my Soundcloud page . A song is born and we’re playing a night later. It’s what I’ve always wanted as an artist. Instant release because for me the gratification has always been in the writing. I have an idea, I nurture it, albeit briefly then if I let it go I’m free to move on. Soundcloud is a great website for musicians in my opinion and a great place to hear music that ordinarily perhaps wouldn’t make it on to a record or the radio.
ANNE: Mark and Jerome, you have played quite a few low-key secret shows around London recently and also did some tracks live on air for Gareth Angel's show on Optical Radio. Will there be more such gigs in the future?
KEDS: We just played one earlier this evening with Dave Barbarossa (Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow and now Cauldronated) at Surya in King’s Cross; a great, little basement club – loved it!
ANNE: There is only one more question to ask. If sky is the limit, what do you wish to achieve with Deadcuts?
KEDS: To leave behind a legacy of music that will reverberate into the next millennia!
So there you have it, a glimpse into the world of Deadcuts. Mixing art and music, drawn to the darker periphery of life. Passionate and not compromising on their ideas, Deadcuts certainly fill a gap in music that has been missing for quite some time. Gods and demons willing, 2014 will be something very special indeed for this band, and sacrificing a little bit of your soul for it will be well worth it.
Catch Deadcuts live @ The Macbeth, Hoxton, London 28/12/13 with a Very Special Guest. The Barfly, Camden, London on New Year’s Eve.
New Deadcuts single ‘Caution Exorcists/Without Love We Perish’ is out NOW on Speedowax.Interview by Anne Johanna