Dead Head have released in my opinion the album of the year in Swine Plague and here is a interview I did with guitar player Rob:
Wow the band has been around for a long time from putting out a 1990 demo till releasing maybe the record of the year in Swine Plague on Hammerheart Records. What do think of that when I say 1990 to 2017?
Hi, it's Rob, guitar player for Dead Head. How are you. First off... I think it's pretty cool that we are playing with the original lineup and are still making the same kind of intense thrashmetal that we started out with. Perhaps it's the only thing we CAN do musically. :-) Of course, it's been a long road. And some things have definitely changed. I remember how we used to sit near the phone at any time, waiting for some agent to invite us on a world wide tour with Slayer or Morbid Angel. The phone rang a lot, we did some great shows and tours, but or course there were also some missed opportunities and disappointments. But we have some more responsibilities now, think: jobs, family. I think it doesn't hold us back. Playing raging thrash metal is what makes life worthwhile to me. I still get the same adrenaline rush from our music as I did when I was a young kid.
Now what is the current line-up of the band and how many are original members at this time?
Actually, we have the same lineup as we did in 1989.
Tom van Dijk – vocals, bass
Ronnie van der Wey – guitar
Robbie Woning – guitar
Hans Spijker – drums
Now what are your thoughts these days on your early 2 demos that you put out. Having never heard them myself, what do you think of them these days?
The first demo was a live-recording. It sold around 1300 copies. It was our first opportunity to make a professional recording. We played our hometown. The PA-guy brought his recording gear. A 16-track recorder, if I recall correctly. We recorded 8 songs, mixed 6 and released them on cassette tape.
This was only our second show, after playing our debut with Pestilence the night before.
Musically there were some mistakes, but I think the tape totally captured what the band was like in the early days... angry, fast, mean, loud. Impatient and eager in a way too. We played so fast, it was hard to keep up with ourselves. :-) The second demo was called The Festering. This was recorded in a studio. Some people will say it's one of the best things we recorded. Perhaps they are right. The time was right, the songs were better. And the organic, analog sound totally worked for us. We sold around 1700 copies of that demo. It really helped us making a name in the then underground scene. Remember that this was before the internet! You had to make a name for yourself by sending out cassettes, xeroxing flyers and hoping that people would talk about your band. Many tape traders from the early nineties know/own The Festering. A lot of people still come up to us and tell us how much they liked that tape. So I guess we did something right.
After your 2 demos and a split release you released your 1st full length called “The Feast Begins At Dawn”. I went on You Tube and checked out some songs from it and it some serious speedy thrash. Who put this release out and what are your thoughts on it? Is it still for sale by chance?
We're working with Hammerheart on re-releasing our entire catalog, including the debut album which was fucked up royally by the German mastering company. Since the album didn't sound too great, it kinda ruined our reputation for a while. I still hate the German small label that put it out. Straightaway we told them: you can't release this, because there has been a factory mistake. But they didn't care and release it anyway. Fucking cheap and clueless of them.
Who came up with your awesome logo and how did you come up with your name and were any other names thrown around?
No other names really. However, we did one show under the name of Serpent. This was already three quarters of the original DH lineup. And of course Tom and Ronnie had been in Lethargy , a very cool and locally known thrash/doom band before. The logo was drawn by our singer Tom van Dijk. We later stretched it a bit. But it's mostly still the same as it was in 1989.
Now still into the early 90’s I still wrote letters and stuff as the underground had not totally reached the internet age. Did you as a band know all about fanzines and stuff like that? Did you as a band know about tape trading and the like even though by the 90’s that was all and gone?
We did all of that. I did most of the correspondence and shipping. I still meet people – like on Facebook, or at shows- that I originally met through tapetrading and writing. Which is really cool. While it was NOT the fastest and most efficient way to stay in contact, in a way it WAS a lot more personal than these days. These days, with the internet everybody is connected instantly, but the contact is often a lot more volatily/glimpsy. Back in the day for instance.. you would receive hand written letter that some guy in a small Scandinavian village had written to our band. This meant: He took the time to put the pen to paper, ride his bicycle to the nearest post office, pay for stamps and send some of his hard earned money out for our demo tape. And next, in about a week, he would find our humble demo tape in his mailbox. That was just a LOT different than downloading an mp3 or going on YouTube. It was more special and more exciting. It was also bonding, like you felt being part of some special movement. Back then we got many mail from the most exotic places. That was very cool. South American metalheads stuck like a million stamps on the envelopes because postage was so expensive. We used to send them back, so they could use them again. They put some wax on it, to wipe off the postage stamps. (I was around back then and yes those times were priceless-chris)
In 1993 you released your 2nd full length on Bad Taste Recordings called “Dream Deceiver”. What are your thoughts on this release these days?
We were dedicated to making up for the failures of the first album. We partially succeeded in that. The album sounds better, songs are better arranged. It also showed a more mature sound. We slowed down a bit. Some would argue the album is a bit more death metal. We had a different drummer in those days, since Hans went back to finish school and the other guy was more available for touring in other countries. This -in between- drummer was more technical which also contributed to the slight change in style.
Now were you playing a lot of live shows at the time? If so who did you share the stage with?
We did a few hundred shows. Played with many underground bands and some well known bands like Kreator, Exodus, Slayer, Sepultura and more.
Were you as a band all getting along with each other or was there member changes going on?
Ha, we did have our ups and downs. Our singer left the band a few times. Usually because he couldn't stand the rest. We were either working too slow, or being to stubborn in some respect. Like I just mentioned, we did change drummers for the second album, because Hans went to school to get some proper education. He returned a few years later. And of course, the 2009 album Depression Tank (2009) was recorded with a different singer, since Tom was tired of the frustrations of being in a band (with us). Funny enough the – in between – singer Ralph sounded a LOT like Tom. So some people might not have noticed straightaway. Actually when the band just came back to life after laying low between 1995 and 2000, we worked with Michiel Dekker from The Monolith Deathcult for a few years on vocals. That was also an interesting period, since he really got us going again. Sometimes getting a younger band member can be inspiring too.
Now even with your early stuff, you always played fast, aggressive, speedy thrash metal. Now during this time, mid 90’s thrash was pretty much out and replaced by death metal and then black metal as thrash metal lost a lot of its fan base and most of thrash bands had slowed down and weakened their sound, while you stayed true to the style. How were album sales for the band at this time period?
From a strategic point of view it was deadly. But I guess it would have been worse if we would have jumped on the death metal bandwagon. That would not haven been very sincere. We made our first album in the hey day of death metal. What' s worse for a start really? Still, a lot of death metal fans respected us for what we were. And since we were such an intense band, a lot of dm fans still seemed to like what we did. The first years we would always be the ONLY non-death metal band at a festival, which in a way made us stick out from the rest. So I'm gonna say it was both a bad and a good thing.
After a demo in 1995 the band did not release anything until 1999, which was your “Kill Division release. What happened with the band within those 4 years?
Not much. This was the period where other responsibilities came kicking in. We had to make a living, finish school. Just boring real-life stuff. Kill Division was recorded in that period, but we did only a few shows and the album wasn't released until early 2000, I think. It was mostly since we felt bad about this cool music being on the shelves and we missed playing live. So we picked up pace again.
Who released “Kill Division” and what are your thoughts on the release nowadays? Is it still for sale?
The first run was released by Cold Blood Industries, which was a label ran by Henri from God Dethroned. Later, Displeased Records released another version of it, that included 9 (!) live tracks.
Was it easy writing and putting together songs at this time in the bands career? What are some of the things that you write about?
Metal Archives mentions: religion, suicide, society, drugs – I always thought that was a great observation. It was never hard for us to write riffs, but we tend to take a lot of time for arranging our material. As for lyrics... Ronnie has lyrics for at least 10 more albums ready. He's always writing, reading, juggling with words. It's something he likes to do.
Did anybody give you any shit for staying fast and not slowing down? If they did fuck them.
Haha. There's no use for slowing down, really. Too many slow or moderate bands out there already. I DO feel that many of the bands that go by the thrash monicker are really mostly playing mid tempo metal. It's very common for a thrash band to start off a song with about 8 bars of fast thrash beats, with all the head banging and loud attire involved, but already the next riff will introduce some mid tempo riff that the vocalist will hook into and that will continue throughout most of the song. And perhaps only later in the song they will return to full speed. Usually around the solo section. It's like this pattern that everybody seems to comfortable with. We have NEVER been about that particular approach. Dead Head's music needs to be intense, furious, loud. And off course that will shy/scare away some people. So be it. It's not entry level metal anyway.
Ok now in 2000 a compilation came out called “Come to Salem”. Now was this a new album or some old stuff re-issued on cd?
Both old and unreleased stuff. A large part of it consisted of the The Festering – demo. Releasing that on CD felt good. Most people liked that demo better than our first album anyway. So Come To Salem became like our alternative debut album. Many of the other songs were unreleased or demo stuff. It was just a cool way to both release the demo on CD and treat people on a few other tunes they never heard before. It's also very varied and fresh because of that.
Now the band didn’t release anything from 2000 to 2004 and an Ep came out called “Dog God”. Did you release this or did a label? Was this a release to let people know your back?
This was released by a small label called Fadeless Records from The Netherlands.
The label was connected to the Dutch death metal band Mangled and they released mostly death vinyl in small runs. The guy running the label was also doing stuff for Relapse in Europe. “Dog God” was meant as a teaser for our upcoming album Haatland. It featured two songs of the album already. On the B side it featured – again – an unreleased song called ' Identity' and an Iron Maiden cover (Total Eclipse)
We move on to 2005 where you had another full length called “Haatland”. If it is misspelled blame Encyclopaedia Medallum. Anyway at this point how easy is it to come up with new songs and record them? Who put this out and how was it going into the studio for this release?
It's not misspelled. Haatland (translates to Hateland, of course) is an industrial area in our original hometown Kampen. It was pretty easy to come up with new stuff, since we were very motivated to get the band going again. We operated in the original live-up for that album. And recording in Denmark with Jacob Hansen of Invocator-fame was inspiring and interesting as well. I still think Haatland is a very cool album, at least it has like 4 of 5 songs that work really well in a live show.
Up until this point had you as a band done any type of touring? How would you rate yourself as a live band? How easy was it to come up with a set list with all the material you had out?
That's never easy. Any band that did several albums will tell you. The only real touring as a band we did in the 90ies. First a week with Carcass. Then 2 weeks with Massacra from France. And then a few weeks with Sinister and Incantation. All the other stuff we did was weekend runs. Like three shows with Destruction. And a few things like that. Plus loads of festivals in Holland and Belgium.
Now what did the band do from 2005 till 2009 when you released “Depression Tank”? Who put this out and was it easy putting together songs for this release? What are some of the subject matters on this release?
We spent most of the time writing music. And like our drummer recently pointed out: we gradually changed from a live band into mostly a studio band. We spent a ton of time writing and (re)-arranging. Perhaps too much time even, without testing the songs live. Subject matters are actually the same as always. The music was sometimes very intense, like in songs like Dissolved in Purity and especially Green Angel. Other songs were more controlled and have a tendency to sound... well, maybe too digital.
Now from 2009 till 2017 the band released nothing. Had at any time from 1990 when the band formed till 2017 had the band ever broken up or if not had you ever considered breaking up?
We never officially broke up. It's just that we sometimes didn't do much for a few years. 1996-1999 was the only time we were fully inactive. The other albums just took a long time to be recorded. Because we are so critical towards our music that we throw away many ideas before other people have even heard them. That's stupid, but it's the way it goes. It's far from efficient either. But being so self-critical is also a good thing, because eventually the songs might turn out better. :-)
Now obviously I have read about the Kreator comparisons and I don’t give a fuck about em. Now have you ever played with them or have you ever met them?
We played only one show with them – long time ago – in Belgium. Probably around 1992. But I worked for a metal magazine for a long time and did several interviews with Mille. He DOES know there's this unknown band from Holland, with a singer that sounds like early Mille. Some people had told him that. And I think I even let him listen to us. His reaction was: I understand what they are saying, but I don't think the similarities are too big. Actually comparing Kreator and Dead Head is weird. Since they are a full time band, almost like a company, while we are just an underground band. Also I think the vocals are more of a common factor than the music. We DID consider covering their song ' Riot Of Violence' in the past. I thought that would be very cool, because it's a song that their drummer Ventor sings. So we would do a Kreator song with Mille-type vocals that was never sung by Mille in the first place.
When did the songs for your fantastic new release “Swine Plague” start to come together? Was this a band effort of do only a couple members write the songs?
Some songs are like 5 years old. Other ones were written last year, shortly before the recording of the album. Like usual it's not a band effort at first, but just a guitar player and a drummer jamming riffs. By the time the music seems usuable, the other guys gradually chime in. I guess that's how most bands work. Myself I do some of the arranging at home on the computer. But I really need the trade off of the other guys to make a song really work.
What studio did you use for this release and how long were you in the studio for?
We recorded the basics in the summer of 2016. Most of the drums and rhythm guitars were recorded live at the same time. The other parts and vocals were added in the second half of 2016. And after the mix was perfect around early January 2017, we had to wait for like 4 months for the release. Just because we missed the original deadline. That was a hard period for us, since we already knew we made something cool, but we could not show anybody else.
How did you end up on Hammerheart Records and how have things been going with them so far?
We've known the owner Guido for 20 years and worked with him before on the Come To Salem compilation and some re-releases by my other doom/death band Beyond Belief. Guido is very supportive. He's a music fan. Always caring and really helping to get our music out in the best possible way.
How has the response been so far to this unholy release of real thrash metal?
Overwhelming actually. Without any exception, the reviews have been very positive. For us that was very cool. Because we liked the new album a lot, but you never know how others will react. We were thinking, perhaps the scene had changed so much that people would no longer put up with the relentless type of thrash metal that we are playing. A lot of metal has become very accessible. Many of those metalcore bands start out pretty harsh sounding, but within minutes some melodic chorus will kick in. Not to mention all the female vocal crap, which is usually very slick and shaped, with carefully laid out song structures and some distorted small guitars in the background. It's not music that I like, but it's music that has become very big. So all in all I'm really glad that so many people still acknowledge and support our humble, hard working thrash band.
How did you come up with the title “Swine Plague”?
That was after we had already abandoned some titles and album covers. Many of those were war-themed. But just didn't seem to fit. Next, my other guitar player Ronnie came up with the simple, but brilliant current artwork. Chosing a title wasn't very hard then. Tom and Ronnie's original band Lethargy already had a hectic song called 'Swine Plague' and that title fit perfectly. We might actually record the song Swine Plague for the next album, since we always liked it.
Do you hope to do some type of touring behind this release? Have you ever played in the US and would you like to someday if you haven’t?
I would board a plane tomorrow to play the US. But it's all down to being invited and getting tickets etc paid. And everybody getting some days off from work. We do have some shows lined up in the second half of 2017. And we're going to work with a booker to get us some more cool shows, so who knows.
Do you feel you are an original band and at what time do you think you hit having the Dead Head sound?
We hit the DH-sound early on. But we were not really able to control it much at first. That took some time. I would never say we are an original band. But we do things quite a bit different from most bands, plus we are very persistent in what we do. So I guess and hope that makes us stand out a bit. And when it comes to influences. They were never Slayer or Kreator, but way more Possessed, Sacrifice, Dark Angel, Bloodcum, Sadus, Pentagram from Chile, Razor. I've always been a huge fan of the more original and obscure stuff.
If someone was to say to you that thrash metal is dead what would you tell them?
Ha, listen to our new album. It's far from dead and will kick skeptics in the face.
Please plug any websites you have?
Any last words and horns up for doing this interview?
Just thank for your time and interest in the band. Sorry for taking so long to answer. And I really hope that people find the time to at least check a few songs off the new album. Go YouTube or Bandcamp it should all be there already.
Interview by Chris Forbes