We’ve got something properly good and heavy for your Band of the Day today.
Mastiff are from the sun-kissed tropical paradise of Kingston Upon Hull, the UK City Of Culture 2017 and Number 1 on the vast majority of ‘Shittest City In England’ lists.
How did you meet?
I first met Phil when we were teenagers at Hull’s premier rock dive, Spiders. He was pissed out of his face wearing a Black Flag shirt, talking about how great straight-edge hardcore was. I knew we’d get along pretty well after that. We ended up playing in a band together for quite a few years after that, we sucked but were great at partying. Jim and Mike have also been playing together in various noisy outfits for a great many years, then those guys and Phil did a few different projects over the last decade, which culminated in the formation of Mastiff. Dan was a homeless degenerate we found living under a bridge last year, we scrubbed him up and gave him some hot soup and it turned out he knew how to play bass so we kept him around.
How long have you been playing as a band?
Mastiff has been a band for roughly 5 years in some form or another, but again, most of us have been playing in bands together for the last couple of decades. Phil asked me to join in October 2016 after their old guitar player left, and Dan joined around May/June last year when our bass player Matt Dennett decided to go full-time with Battalions. So this version of Mastiff has been solid and ruining lives since summer 2017.
Before you get sick of being asked… where does the band name come from?
I mean, it just sounds tough as nails, right? That’s mostly it.
What are your influences?
The list of bands that inspire and influence us is ever evolving. Originally Mastiff drew a lot from bands like Crowbar, Eyehategod, just kinda nasty, sludgy stuff. Since me and Dan joined we’ve sped things up a little and brought more of a grind and hardcore influence in. Personally, Cult Leader and Trap Them are probably the two bands that I look to most for both their sound and the atmosphere they create when I’m writing for Mastiff.
Describe your music. What makes you unique?
Everyone in Mastiff comes from a heavy music background, but there’s a wide variety in our personal tastes within the wider genre, and that all coming together has spawned the particular brand of nastiness you can hear spewing out of us nowadays. The most common term that gets thrown at us is sludgecore and I think that kinda fits to a degree, but it doesn’t really paint the whole picture. We’re far from progressive, but we pull in all kinds of extreme sounds – from sludge to grind, doom to crust – and manage to make them work together in a way that I think is uniquely ours. We also won’t settle for anything that doesn’t sound utterly disgusting.
Do you have any particular lyrical themes?
Death, misery, all the fun, happy stuff. Mastiff is generally a conduit for all of the negativity that comes along with the Human condition, so Jim’s lyrics are something of an emotional purge, just a stream of all the bad things that come along with living in our broken world. Our new album centres a lot around the corrosive influence social media has on us as a species, and how it brings out the worst nature in all of us.
What’s your live show like? How many shows have you played?
Our shows are pretty intense, we pride ourselves on pushing things as hard as possible when we’re onstage. We get up there and let loose, it’s not always the most technically precise performance but I think we provide quite a visceral and cathartic experience. We’re also really fucking loud, we’re well known for cranking our amps up a few notches after soundcheck to give everything that extra power needed to actually knock people over. We don’t gig or tour as much as some of our peers, mostly due to us all having families, careers, etc. We probably do a couple of shows a month for most of the year, maybe a few more than that in summer. We’re definitely going to try pushing that a bit more in the next year though.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen or done at a live show?
Our old bass player got Mastiff banned from a venue for a couple of years by smashing his foot through their stage. That’s pretty wild, right? I dunno, we’re all pretty old and miserable, aside from occasionally having a beer too many, we’re not super crazy, we prefer to let our music cause trouble on our behalf.
What kit do you use / guitars do you play / etc.?
I play a Squier Baritone Jazzmaster. It took a little getting used to when I bought it because it’s a longer scale neck than I’ve ever had before, but once I settled into it it’s by far my favourite guitar I’ve ever played, and it’s built like a tank – a guitar cab fell on it the day we finished recording our new album and it didn’t even knock it out of tune. I also won’t go anywhere without my Boss HM-2 pedal, that’s a tried and tested instrument of destruction right there. Phil has just been endorsed by Boult Guitars, and we both currently use Bugera amps, which are a bit of a budget brand but have a great tone and loads of power. Dan has had what feels like about 300 different bass guitars and pedalboard setups since he joined the band, so who knows what he’s playing today. Mike beats the everloving shit out of a Yamaha kit, and Jim I believe uses the old standard SM58, though I’m not convinced he actually needs a microphone, he’s pretty fucking loud on his own.
What, if anything, are you plugging/promoting at the moment?
We’ve just dropped our first proper album, Plague on APF Records on February 1st, and we can’t fucking wait. We recorded it back in July 2018 and have been sat on it ever since, so it’s going to be like this massive explosion of tension when it’s finally out there. Our last EP, BORK was written mostly in the few months after I first joined Mastiff and before Dan was really part of the fold, so in hindsight it feels a little disjointed and not really representative of what we’re all about. Plague on the other hand, was the result of all five of us really working under the same umbrella for a year, and it came out so well. It’s definitely more extreme than anything else Mastiff has ever done, in both directions – there’s a 45-second long grind track on there, and a 9-minute doom epic closing it – yet it somehow is our most coherent and consistent release too. It’s a big deal for all of us, especially because APF are putting it out on vinyl, which is a dream come true for me and the rest of the guys.
What are your plans for 2019?
Obviously our main concern is the release of Plague, pushing that in as many faces as possible. We’re playing a couple of shows around the release weekend, the most prominent being the second annual APF Showcase at The Bread Shed in Manchester, where we’ll be playing the whole album front-to-back for the first time live. After that, we’ll be trying to get up and down the country as much as possible to spread the virus, hopefully do some festivals and maybe even get out to Europe and do some shows at some point – assuming we’re still allowed to travel over the channel after Brexit. If it ever happens.
If you were second on a three-band bill, which band would you love to be supporting and which band would you choose to open for you? A chance to plug someone you’ve toured with, or a mate’s band we’ve not heard of before!
There are so many great bands doing the rounds in the UK circuit at the moment, and I’d be hard pressed to pick one I think we could justify playing after! Probably my favourite band to play with and watch are Geist, from Durham. They’re the closest thing the world is ever likely to get to Cursed reforming, the same black blood runs through their veins, there’s a proper force of nature when they play, and they’d definitely be my pick to open up. As for the headliner, there are countless legends who I’d love Mastiff to be able to play with, and I’m sure if you asked each member of the band this question they’d probably have a completely different answer. I’d sell vital organs to be able to play a show with Converge, they’ve been around forever but they’re still one of the most endlessly creative heavy bands on the planet, every member of the band is at the top of their game, and in Ben Koller and Kurt Ballou they have my favourite drummer and guitar player within their ranks. It would be a dream to play with them, even though they’d show us up for the talentless hacks we really are within the first 30 seconds of their set.
From previous Band of the Day, Empire Warning: if a Norse God had to take over from one band member what god will it be, what position would they be filling?
I’m not entirely convinced that our singer Jim isn’t a Norse god, to be honest.
From another BotD, The Crawling: being in a band can be as much of curse as a source of enjoyment and satisfaction. What keeps you going when things get tough?
I would say that, at least in my experience so far, being in Mastiff has been pretty much nothing but enjoyable. If anything, it’s my main source of therapy when life in general gets tough. The guys in the band are all generally easy going and jovial, but I think that’s because we have this vile, angry, harrowing vessel of a band into which we can all pour all of our frustration and anger. It helps us all stay level-headed, and also ensures that the music we create is as disgusting and hateful as humanly possible, which is definitely a good thing for what we’re trying to achieve.
And from King Bison (UK): if you could join any band on stage for one song, who would it be and what track would you play?
Gonna have to go back to my main band crush Converge again, and their apocalyptic anthem, ‘Jane Doe’. It might not be them at their fastest and most furious, but it’s an absolute monster of a track, with incredibly huge and satisfying riffs that I’d love to have a go at alongside Mr Ballou.