Culture

Psych Noise Band Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs on Heavy Music and Writing a Song About Greggs

In the first of our Heavy Britain column, the Newcastle band chat recent album 'Viscerals' and being called "unconventional".
26 May 2020, 12:34pm
Pigs x7 interview
Photo provided by PR
Heavy Britain is a rock column that looks into some of the heaviest bands in the UK.

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs are a heavy band from Newcastle upon Tyne, in the northeast of England. Since 2013, their explosive mutant take on 70s heavy metal has taken them from the Toon to mainland Europe (via Guernsey), to festivals like Arctangent, the Great Escape and Desert Fest.

Their rowdy third album Viscerals came out on April 3rd, 2020 and although it shows progression from previous Pigs records, it still throbs with their unique noise rock/stoner/psych hybrid sound. They’ve got the groove of Black Sabbath, the noise of Unsane and some 80s post-punk thrown in there for good measure.

Their frontman, Matt Baty (who fans will know as the frenzied master of ceremonies, bellowing half-naked onstage, like Jaz Coleman from Killing Joke) also runs Box Records, an underground label home to Luminous Bodies, Blóm and Casual Nun. To top it all off, I know three of them from my childhood in rural North Yorkshire. I had a few beers with them over Zoom and talked about the band, Greggs the bakers and letting our emotions guide us.

VICE: Now then, Pigs. You get described as ‘unconventional’ by people. What do you think of that description?
Adam: From an inside perspective, I find it really hard to tell if we’re unconventional or not.
Sam: If you look at the background of me, Matt and Johnny coming from Richmond [North Yorkshire] – when we were learning the ropes, we were in an old church in Hutton Magna. We had no other points of reference, no other kind of benchmark for what writing a song is. So there was a lack of convention, in that regard. And that’s fed through to my playing now. Up until [I played in] Pigs, on most albums and records I've done a track usually takes the length of a side of a record. That was just how it worked in our heads, so that was just what we did. We’ve got 20 minutes, let's fill it! Adam: It’s by accident, more than design, I guess. It's worth noting that everything is by accident [laughs].

Tell me more about growing up in North Yorkshire and Tyneside areas. How did that influence your creativity?
Johnny: We just had like, ultimate freedom to just do whatever we wanted, when we wanted. We’d just play until four in the morning just doing whatever felt right. We did that for years and years and years. So I think that's definitely informed where we're at musically. We were very lucky.

What about Newcastle? Has living there nurtured your work in any way?
Adam: Yeah, absolutely. It's great. There are some incredible heavy bands and some really good festivals. There’s Tusk Festival which is a bit more left field. Then there’s Brave Exhibitions Festival at The Cluny which is 70 percent heavy stuff. It seems to be a really healthy time at the moment, despite the lack of funding. Everyone is just trying to make things work and succeeding really well, it seems.
Sam: For us five, the idea of what's heavy is more about conveying a mixture of sincerity and intensity. A good example is Richard Dawson, especially in the earlier days there was such an intensity and heaviness to [his music]. We’ve gigged with him as Pigs but it's not been out of place. In Newcastle in particular, there's never a shortage of that mixture. It creates a really broad spectrum of bands within what we would describe as – but what might not be semantically regarded as – "heavy".
Adam: It also has a really supportive scene, for want of a better word. Everyone knows each other and the support feeds through everything.
Sam: There's not a lot of pressure to impress, where there might be in London.
Adam: Yeah, there are no big record labels in Newcastle. We don’t have to try to cater for them. That's a big one for me. It really helps.

I feel the mood of Viscerals suits this weird time in which it’s been released. I hear disruption, chaos, introspection, angst, confusion and doom in the record, but also clouds parting and moments of hope. What does it sound like to you?
Sam: We were writing music in a world that wasn’t exactly normal before the pandemic. In a socio-political sense it’s been a strange past five years or so. Politically and culturally. That’s reflected in the surrealism and wonkiness that we put into the music. It’s probably no surprise that that still translates to what has become an even more bizarre environment to listen in.
Matt: When we do interviews, some people kind of want to push us toward admitting to being a political band. I’m a bit reluctant to say we’re a political band, I don’t think that’s a tag or term that I would feel particularly comfortable with, to be honest. We’re more of a psychological band. On a macro sense, you can’t help but have that influence your psychology. The lyrics are my interpretation of the world and the community around me.

Where does the energy, or what could be perceived as "aggression" in your music, come from?
Adam: When you’re making intentionally heavy music, a degree of levity is important. Any aggression that is in there is at least still slightly tongue-in-cheek. Shouting “bastards!” is undeniably aggressive, but the idea of shouting the word “bastards!” over and over and over again is pretty daft in itself [laughs].

You play with elements of different genres. You’re not quite stoner or doom, punk or noise rock… Has that uniqueness helped or hindered you?
Johnny: It's massively helped. We can play the likes of Desert Fest and it's, you know, real hardcore metal fans who might find it surprisingly enjoyable – the melodies in there and the playfulness. At the same time we play family festivals and it's just parents and kids, pretty much. There it’s mostly really nice, pleasant music and we are a juxtaposition [from everyone else] – [the people watching] escape from all that briefly in our set. There have been times where we've been the noisy band on the bill and that’s done wonders for us.
Sam: It's a reflection of our own tastes anyway, I think we're quite broad in our own musical persuasions. Look at the type of stuff Box [Records] puts out and look at the stuff that comes through Blank Studios [where I work]. We’ve all got histories in different worlds of music.

Have your ambitions changed or grown throughout your journey?
Johnny: When we first set out as Pigs I was just thinking that I’d love to play Supernormal Festival, Supersonic, Raw Power, Desert Fest... If we played them then I knew we’d have "made it", sort of. But we’ve played all of these things and I’ve ticked every box I could possibly imagine! We’ve gone through that list and it’s like fucking hell, what now? We’re at a level I never, ever anticipated.
Matt: I sometimes think of us as a lower league football team that has gone on a really amazing FA Cup run. We’re now in the quarter finals and we’re like, fucking hell, how have we got here?! But we’re still motivated enough to say, you know what, I think we can make it to the semi-finals. One match at a time. We’ll practice penalties because we might expect it to go to a penalty shoot-out, but we might actually be able to do it! [laughs]

Viscerals has eight tracks on it. Other eight track albums include; The King of Limbs by Radiohead, Conqueror by Jesu, Ambient 4: On Land by Brian Eno, the first Iron Maiden album, L**ong Live Rock ‘n Roll** by Rainbow, Horses by Patti Smith, Blackwater Park by Opeth and Remain in Light by Talking Heads. I couldn’t think of a question about these – I just thought I’d share the list with you.
Matt: We’re in very good company there.
Adam: I was going to say that we try really hard to manage expectations, on your last question. But now I’m saying we want to be as successful as every one of those albums! [laughs].

Too right! Do you deal with any themes or subjects on this album? I read that your last record, King of Cowards**, was about sin and guilt.** Matt: There’s a hangover of some of the themes on King of Cowards. Maybe I’ll never really shake those off, because that’s kind of who I am and what makes up me as a person. There’s a lot of metaphorical stuff. I’m rabbiting on about blood and internal stuff as physical things throughout the whole new album. I quite like how that can kind of relate to more emotional states. It can act as a metaphor. Especially blood, it’s internal… generally, you don’t see it but when you do it can be quite a shocking experience for people. I kind of regard some of human emotion like that, as well. Those parts of a person that are unwilling to be expressed.

On "Hell’s Teeth" you sing, “I belieeeeve in everythiiiing”, you also sing about star signs and [cult Australian artist] Vali Myers. What’s all that about?
Matt: [laughs] That’s more about people’s beliefs and different belief systems. Also, it’s about peoples coping mechanisms and where people might turn for comfort and guidance. As long as you don’t turn to the deep, dark web and start looking into mad right wing conspiracy theories or anything like that, as long as it’s not damaging, then rock on. People can find their own ways to cope with and understand the very strange world we live in.

Do you have any of those beliefs? Something you believe that helps you cope and understand.
Matt: I genuinely try and keep an open mind about a lot of things. I let emotion guide me. One thing I do believe in quite strongly is tapping into and exercising intuition. I think that’s something within everyone that does need exercising for it to stay active and strong. In the same way that your body needs exercise to stay strong.
Adam: One of the tracks on the album is about Greggs the bakers. We’ll leave it to the audience to guess which one…

Finally, what does it mean to make heavy music today?
Matt: For me – across all types of heavy music, noise rock or heavy metal – it’s catharsis. It always has been. It’s the most effective way I’ve found to switch my brain off and just be. I’m not trying to sell mindfulness or anything, but to be strictly in a moment without having your mind racing off. The sonics of heavy music, if done right, will close everything off and you’ll just be, for as long as you’re in that moment. For me that’s a wonderful thing and that’s something that I’ve always found across all genres of heavy music. When I’ve seen some of my favourite bands live they have the ability to just make time stop for a bit. That’s an amazing gift.
Adam: There has never been a point in our lifetime where catharsis is more necessary than now.

Cheers, lads.

@Jak_TH

Viscerals is out now via Rocket Recordings.

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