“Curioser and curioser…”
Formed in Watford, England in 1999, Sikth pioneered a technical, crazy yet melodic style of metal that melded prog, thrash, death metal and a host of eclectic influences. They were (and are) unique with two contrasting singers who somehow manage to complement one another with every line, scream and melody – and the collective musical skill of the rest of the band would put many to shame. Combining instrumental virtuosity with massive hooks and anthemic melodies, Sikth have still always been about the song, always been about making music that moves people. It’s what’s earned them their devoted following, which seems to be bigger than ever now that they’re back from a near seven-year hiatus with a new mini-album and music video. Cited as a major influence by standout bands from the djent movement such as Periphery, Sikth still stand out from the pack with a gloriously oddball style of intelligent, frantic metal that instantly spreads a shit-eating grin across the face of every audience member at their shows. Rather than harp on about all things breakup-related, I chatted with singer Mikee Goodman and guitarist Dan Weller about stuff that’s interesting, like creativity and how they feel about today’s uncertain musical landscape.
HMA: So how do you feel now that you’ve got new music out for the world to hear? What’s the response been like to the new mini-album (‘Opacities’) and video (for lead single ‘Philistine Philosophies)?
MIKEE GOODMAN: Yeah the response has been better than we’ve ever had before, for our band. We’ve never got 9 out of 10 before in Metal Hammer, and I’ve seen loads of scores of 9 or above 9 out of 10 in the press. Fans are receiving it really well, everyone’s receiving it better than we’ve ever done. But there’s also so many things out at the moment; there’s so much music out there that it’s hard to spread the word… it’s easier in some ways, cos you can get things out straight away, but it doesn’t necessarily go everywhere straight away cos there’s too much congestion… too many sources, man, too many websites and things, you know what I mean? Too many bands! Too many shit bands… (laughs)
HMA: (laughs) Actually I was going to say, that song Philistine Philosophies, you say it deals with the decline of the music industry and things like that – would it be fair to say that it’s dealing with the decline of the kind of innocence and ‘everyone’s got a fair shot’ vibe that we all came up with when we started bands?
MIKEE: Yeah, it’s about the mystique which seems to be lost and…when I was growing up, and still, I like to listen to a full album, listen to it again and again and again, give it my full attention. Nowadays everything’s so fast and everything must be done really quickly. I think a lot of people now will get into music by listening to one song, then they’ll move on to another song and they’ll be reading something while they’re doing that, doing like three things at the same time, and there’s little focus… it seems to be that everyone does a lot more in the day now than they used to. Everyone fills their minds… everything is so much easier to throw away. You know, even photography, everything – I’m talking about everything, art, not just music – that’s what I’m talking about in ‘Philistine Philosophies’. Everything has lost its… I can’t think of the word now.
HMA: Like a purity or a naïveté – not naïveté, but people being open to things…
MIKEE: It’s, everything has to be so… there’s so much demand for new material or whatever every single day that the quality is really lacking, it’s a lot less than it used to be. And that goes on in music – there’s so much focus on being on the front cover of a magazine rather than honing your material that a lot of bands just come out sounding the same and just want to be accepted, and there seems to be a focus on acceptance and being accepted into a scene rather than creating your own music and starting your own scenes. It’s the same within music and a lot of different artistic [spheres], but uh… that’s what I was on about in that song really. And also the record companies aren’t really helping at all because a lot of are just signing bands that have already been, you know. They’re too frightened to sign something out there because maybe they wouldn’t know how to market it or whatever, and they wanna know what’s a banker and if you do that, then look what’s happened to the music industry – it’s fallen apart. People are bored, there’s no excitement, there’s a lack of bands coming through and what are you going to have? Festivals constantly having the same headliners – I don’t think it’s gonna last man… maybe it will become better, because I like the old festivals, and I like small gigs, you know there’s passion and sweat… we played in Bristol the other night and the venue was a bit smaller and it was amazing. Best gig I’ve had since KoKo (Sikth’s incredible London comeback show was at KoKo at the end of 2014). So maybe it will be a really really positive thing, but now the state of it, the mentality is that it’s all been done – but it hasn’t all been done. It’s just a mental block in a lot of people’s minds.
HMA: Going back to your music, I always got more of a fun, eccentric vibe than I do with a lot of the ‘tech’ bands that are coming out now. I wanted to know what you guys think makes it sound more three-dimensional than the kind of grey riff fest that you get from a lot of these acts.
MIKEE: Dan Weller, did you hear that?
DAN WELLER (from the other side of the room): Sorry, no I didn’t?
MIKEE: Ask that question again and we’ll get Dan Weller to answer it.
HMA: (repeats question)
DAN: Well I see that as a real compliment actually, that three-dimensional aspect you mentioned, cos that’s what we’ve always aimed for – where you can almost look inside a song. When you listen to something like Metallica’s ‘…Justice’ or ‘Master of Puppets’, you feel like you’re inside an album – you’re not just listening to a 2D studio recording. I think a lot of it comes from different guitar parts between me and Pin, vocal effects and sounds and approaches…
MIKEE: Different voices…
DAN: Yeah… exactly.
MIKEE: And I have very colourful subjects I talk about as well, it’s not just normal [stuff]. You know the lyrics and stuff have a lot more colour to them.
DAN: It’s a narration, isn’t it?
MIKEE: There’s a lot of cliché shit they talk about [other bands], it’s like, “Do you really have any emotion? Really? Is that what you really think? Have you lived? Have you experienced much?” A lot of people have experienced much and I’m not anyone hasn’t, but a lot of like screaming I hear I’m just like, “Really?” You know what I mean, Dan?
DAN: I think with the tech metal scene it spawned from nerdy musicians wanting to make nerdy music, and the vocals are almost an afterthought: “What do we need, do we need heavy vocals or melodic vocals?” And they’re almost like a thing that’s stuck on, cos you have to do!
MIKEE: Because you have to scream, not because you’re passionate just because you have to. The vocals should be passionate!
DAN: I think that’s the thing, there’s a soul to Sikth, there’s a feeling behind it. The melodies within the riffs have a lot of emotion in them – they’re there to jerk the heartstrings, some of the chord progressions. Equally the vocals, Mikee won’t just spit any old shit down the mic, he’ll take his time and construct it.
MIKEE: Lyrically, I do a lot of work. I write until the last second, I’m very much concentrating on what I’m doing lyrically.
HMA: I think a lot of the geeks and musicians out there would love to be a fly on the wall at a Sikth practice, watching all those great riffs, songs, drum parts and moments that everyone loves being born. Can you share some insight on the growth of particular favourite songs or moments for the geeks and musicians out there?!
DAN: ‘Pussyfoot’ (from 2003’s ‘The Trees are Dead and Dried Out, Wait for Something Wild’) is a unique one. Cos obviously me and Mikee and Pin, we formed the band first before Dan (Foord, drums), James (Leach, bass) and Justin (Hill, vocals) joined… so ‘Pussyfoot’ was kind of one of the earlier songs. That’s quite a complicated example to give, because we had half a song that we used to play, but when the new guys came we kind of developed it.
MIKEE: ‘How May I Help You?’
DAN: ‘How May I Help You?’ came from a beat that Loord (nickname for Dan Foord) had, which was kind of a (sings drumbeat) which was kind of the intro, and I wrote the riff around that, and then we had the hook (sings riff) riff separately… it was in Loord’s bedroom that we wrote that song pretty much in its entirety. A lot of our songs would come from collating riffs that were in the same tempos, so we’ll just make that if a song’s 210 bpm, for instance, which is the ideal blast tempo, we’ll just write other riffs in that tempo which have the same feeling, and then we’ll start to recycle parts from each riff and intersperse them into other riffs so that all the riffs feel like they’ve organically grown from one place – which is kind of a crucial part of the music writing. Then in terms of vocals, Mikee’s best to answer that, but it became a completely different beast when vocals were added because it became a story, and the music video was quite integral to the song and all that stuff.
HMA: I have a vocal question in a little bit actually. I think most people who listen to Sikth want to get into it in a geeky way, they want to know how it all comes together – it’s not the kind of music as a musician you can just tap along with, you want to get inside it and understand it, you know?
DAN: The simple answer is that everyone is extremely ambitious, everyone wants to bring something to the party, and when you have that many ideas, if can find constructive ways to put them together and make them musical it then creates this hybrid which is like “What the fuck is that?” We still listen to it sometimes and go “What the fuck is going on there, how did that happen?” But if break things down – I hate using a painting as a metaphor cos it’s age-old, but if you look at a painting when it’s completed, it’s built up of tiny bits of detail, and that’s what Sikth songs are – they’re built up of fragments that when you stick them all together it sounds like one big “What the fuck?” but it’s actually built out of riffs, bits, ideas, you know what I mean? You just slam it all together and before you know it, it becomes this massive thing. It’s often built upon a theme, a riff that starts it, and it just builds from there.
HMA: I think with a lot of technical music, a lot of inexperienced musicians would just hear the density of it and not get the musical place where it’s coming from, so it’s cool to hear that’s where you’re coming from.
DAN: Well it’s nice to hear these questions because that’s the important stuff for us, the actual music, you know.
HMA: I had a drum lesson with Dan Foord once and he was talking about how he pictures things as a grid and how he breaks it down, which I could understand but at the same time it was quite beyond me…
DAN: Well Loord’s a strange animal in that his improvisational stuff is insane, yet he would never be comfortable going into a situation just improvising – once he’s improvised he’ll work out exactly what he’s playing and he’ll have to go away and work on it hard; then he’ll come back and he’s like a metronome.
MIKEE: Tell him about ‘Days of Dreams’ – Loord just improvised that, tell him about that song… cos a lot of people comment on ‘Days of Dreams’ – I don’t think people in the band, including myself and Dan who worked really, really hard on it, we didn’t expect that to be in all the magazines like, “Download this song!” People love that song, everyone’s going on about it.
DAN: it’s very much a vision that everyone seems to have – well me and Mikee had it to start with, musically, but then we wanted it to feel soulful so instead of contriving it too much, the idea was from one late night in the studio where we had some sort of musical loops and guitar effects that I played in, and then Dan (Foord) and James started playing in a loop, and then Mikee was jamming with them sort of directing them in the room like how he heard it in his head, and then I came and laid a few more guitar bits over it, and then me and Pin started working in another room coming up with loads of riffs around the beats – then we’d send it to Mikee and he’d say, “Nah I don’t like that, try this, try that” so we’d send him another thing – we worked together on it at my house and it just became this animal with loads of different people inputting. Mikee was kind of directing the vision of it so the feeling was right for the lyrics, quite melancholic, emotional lyrics so the chord progression had to feel right for them… before we knew it we had this really epic song that we don’t know where it came from.
MIKEE: Strangely the lyrics from that song were from a song with a band that I wrote many a moon ago with a band that you saw live – Sad Season. We had a song called ‘Days of Dreams’, but we never found a song sad enough for the lyrics, so I said I would take it [once the band split] – actually the only lyric taken from that song is days of dreams… but I like that! (laughs) So I just took that and the subject it was about and reworked it over and over. Even though the roots of it were improvised, drums and bass improvised and then the guitars Dan did about three versions of that, and I did about three versions of the vocals, and then we got it. We worked very hard on that tune even though it sounds the most organic probably.
HMA: It must be quite cool having someone in the room who’s not got an instrument in their hand the whole time to direct things as you said – sometimes musicians can get a little too focused on what they’re doing, and not hear everything in context.
MIKEE: Ah Dan’s given me a lot of credit there – everyone knows kind of where I’m at, with what I love doing – everyone knows that I’m into more bands like Godspeed You Black Emperor and The Doors and Velvet Underground and things like that… you know, I like heavy stuff as well but Dan’s very much into progressive music, so are Dan Foord and James, so there’s kind of a meeting of minds going on. But Dan (Weller) did want to write a song which I buzzed off. We were going to write for Justin as well but he was like, “I don’t want to do it, it’s not me”, so we did write some of it without Justin.
HMA: It’s quite rare to see bands with two singers, you have to really think about it – you’ve got obvious ones like Linkin Park (sorry), 311, Raging Speedhorn…
DAN: Scissor Sisters! (laughs)
HMA: Haha, yeah but there aren’t a lot, especially in heavy music… it’s a hard thing to do, so I want to know how you work that out, how you balance it. Because it sounds like it’s pretty organic.
MIKEE: Well I pretty much work out who sings what, organically though, we’ve got our thing, me and Justin… I’m singing two choruses on this album with Justin, but essentially Justin does the main melodies, I do the more quirky stuff, and we do crossovers – it’s not that complex you know, it’s pretty easy to work out what sounds best. We’ve both got Pro Tools, I go up to his house and we practice a bit, it’s cool… I get on with Justin now better than I’ve ever got on with him so it’s very chilled working with him, he’s a very chilled person. He’s nice to be around, very laid back, whereas I’m very intense when it comes to the music. Definitely! I’m a perfectionist and Dan’s the same, he doesn’t stop with his production and he’s going a million miles an hour – I’ve worked with people in other bands who are very much like that, doing loads of things all at once. So you need chilled people around as well, like Justin! (laughs) If he was as intense and prolific as me it would be horrible! You wouldn’t get anything done as there’d be too many arguments.
DAN: All bands are made up of slightly more active people and slightly more passive people, it just seems to be the way it is, this fucking ying yang thing. It just works that way, and it wouldn’t work any other way [with Sikth], because there are too many chefs…
MIKEE: Too many chefs, yeah, too many…
DAN: Everyone has their creative parts, it’s just some people jump to the front of the queue to shout about it more! Probably me and him! (laughs)
MIKEE: It’s a natural thing, you know, without people like that you don’t get anything done do you? You don’t have anyone driving.
HMA: So now that you’ve got back together after time apart, it’s obviously an intense creative collective and everyone’s very talented, so is there anything now that you do differently compared to how you worked together before?
DAN: It’s very different now, to be honest. As you grow up you learn to communicate with people, or how to get your point across without preaching or something, you know what I mean? If you want someone to do something, that’s still not necessarily the right thing to do. Instead of saying “Let’s do this!”, it’s a case of saying “I think we should do this, what do you reckon?” That counts for a lot and it comes from respect, I think. Of course we have clashes, you know, because six men in a room, all with their own mindsets, are going to clash. There’s a lot more respect now. There’s no beef and it’s relaxed all the time – that’s just the way it is these days. Back in the day it was a lot more stressful – because back in the day the only thing we did was Sikth and our lives were sort of depending on it, but now we’ve had some time to reflect on it, and while Sikth is still a big priority, we do realise that there are other things in our lives to balance it out.
HMA: So if the band stayed together for a long time to come, what are the things you’d like to accomplish musically that you’ve not explored yet?
DAN: I enjoy fast thrash stuff. I’d like to do more ‘Bland Street Blooms’, more frantic, fast-paced stuff.
MIKEE: I’d like to do slower paced stuff (laughs all round). I’d like to expand on this mini album… it was built on groove, and I think I’d like to expand on the groove thing but explore the other extremities, go a bit further with experimentation like we have done before as that’s something I always feel comfortable doing – but I think the direction we’ve gone in, writing actual songs… we might write some shorter songs too, have that in the set, write a few real kick-arse shorter songs.
DAN: It’s just that our songs tend to be built up of a lot of elements, so therefore they often just take a bit longer to get through. Making people jump and bounce has been on my mind while making these songs [for ‘Opacities’] because that’s the kind of stuff we’re collectively into. When you go into a rock club on a Thursday or Friday night and you’re drinking beer, you want to hear a riff – that’s what you cry out for. We’ve never wanted to be a band that confuses people – like some extreme metal bands, they’re just extreme for the sake of being extreme, but that genuinely has never been our purpose. There’s the odd occasion in a song where we’ve wanted to go mental, but the general songwriting ethos is that it needs to be a song and it needs to be a functional thing that people can listen to and enjoy, not be confused and perplexed by. We’re getting better at learning how to do that.
HMA: That’s what I mean, it’s fun to listen to. You can lock in on the vocal, and then there’s a bit where you’re like “fuck, that’s amazing!”
MIKEE: Are you talking about the new EP?
HMA: No, I just mean Sikth’s music in general. It’s heavy but it’s not going through a kind of musical checklist…
DAN: Well going back to your earlier question about tech metal, I think people’s incentive to write technical music is different from musician to musician. For me, I’d never sit down and video myself playing guitar and share it on all the forums, like “Check out my guitar playing!” Whereas a lot of the tech bands get their kicks from that, almost like a thing of being approved by your peers and making people think you’re some sort of guitar god. Sikth has never been about that, we literally care about the songs, and if I could shred, I’d never start shredding to show off, because it doesn’t interest me, whereas a lot of the tech bands, it’s sort of like a testosterone thing. It just doesn’t interest us – granted, Sikth can sound quite macho or whatever sometimes…
MIKEE: We’ve never been a band to be all macho and shit, you know – we even stopped doing walls of death, you know, even though we used to like doing them – it’s a bit macho for us now. We don’t want people to beat the shit out of each other, we just want them to go completely mental and enjoy themselves, you know what I mean? I don’t think macho dudes come to our shows anyway, to be honest with you…
DAN: We very rarely get the hardcore kids swinging their arms – occasionally we do but…
MIKEE: I like going to hardcore gigs now and then, but we’re not a hardcore band, I’m talking about more meathead kind of people –we’re not that at all.
HMA: It’s like when you listen to someone like Devin Townsend or even Pantera, although there is macho thing behind them, it’s more about “Listen to how nasty this is! Listen to how weird this is!”
DAN: It’s not threatening – it’s about whether you can play a riff with a smile on your face or not! You’d always see Dimebag laughing his head off when he played those riffs, but it sounded tough as hell didn’t it? I mean, everybody writes music for different reasons, and nobody’s reasons are right or wrong, it’s just whatever makes you get up in the morning and makes you feel like you’re doing the right thing. We’re lucky that we’ve got kind of a joint ethos that’s very much about leaving our mark musically and trying to do something that’s uniquely ours. It’s a lot harder to do, but the results are a lot more fruitful and more satisfying because you can go, “Fuck, how did we write that, you know?” Instead of spending half a day writing a song and going, “That’s good enough, the kids will bounce to that, now let’s get on the road” – that’s just not us, it’s just not in our nature – I don’t know why, it just never has been.
HMA: Your lyrics are definitely socially and ecologically conscious – when you look around at bands and media today, there are a lot of weirdly focused apocalyptic themes, whether it’s a black metal album or The Walking Dead or video games – has any of this kind of dark sentiment made its way into the new material?
MIKEE: Let me think… ‘Days of Dreams’ – no, that’s about going through a few things, but the message, if there is a message, is that there’s light to be found through going darkness – and you can find a brighter light if you’ve been through intense darkness – so if you can find that, then there’s something special about a person if they can find light within such a dark place. Then there’s two other songs which are more about depression and being in a mentally dark place that you find your way out of. Then there’s ‘Philistine Philosophies’ which we’ve already talked about, and then there’s ‘Tokyo Lights’ – so no! (laughs) I had to talk my way through it! I haven’t [delved into apocalyptic themes] – in places I talk about issues with the world, but I talk more about personal experiences and things because I think I communicate better with others by talking about issues which can make you feel less alone. I talk about quite personal things and then I can turn them into universal things, I like doing that. I talk about the good feelings I have when something I’ve said maybe made someone feel less alone, when they can take those things and make them their own, you know? My lyrics aren’t really apocalyptic are they Dan?
DAN: I describe your lyrics as cinematic – they create visual things, they describe things – you know like ‘Wait For Something Wild’, you imagine this scene in the mid section that adds kind of a three-dimensional nature to the music. I think it comes down to Mikee interpreting music in the way we hope he will – you know, when you write an epic lead section and it feels all kind of ethereal, that inspires him to write in a visual way so I think if our music was just straight up atonal, it would result in a different lyrical thing. It all works together, that’s why it works so well.
MIKEE: When I wrote lyrics, I basically visualise what I’m seeing as the words come.
HMA: Mikee, I’m not sure how much you did in the past, but you’re doing way more visual stuff for Sikth now, like the video for ‘Philistine Philosophies’. Can you talk about that?
MIKEE: When you create music video, you look at the concept of the song and just start creating around it. I know the individuals in Sikth well, so I wanted to do individual shots of everyone in the band. A widescreen style shot wouldn’t have suited us. I wanted to create a kind of mystique, a magical, otherworldly place – so I got together with this guy Gavin Sodaryan (sic) to do the animations and he created all this stuff that I asked him for, which he did really well. This created somewhere really different. All the visuals were backlit, and I made a whole background for each individual to be shot against. It was cool man… it was a horrible amount of work, took two months or something – but you have to go through it. I did Killing Joke’s ‘Corporate Elect’ video and that was really hard work but it was worth it, because it came out really good. Every video I do, I’m very conceptual with, and I’m very much about bringing the meaning of the lyrics out in a visual sense. If you can do that you can make the song sound better overall, and that’s my main aim. It’s a lot about flow, about dynamics, and I’m a musician so I believe I’ve got a good sense of that. People say I’ve got my own kind of style between them all [each medium], but I think each video I do is very different to the next one.
HMA: Do you paint or draw?
MIKEE: I’m not that good at those, but I’ve got an imagination – I work on editing and adding effects, and I’m very much a perfectionist with all that stuff. I spend a long, long while on it, you know. I film it all, edit it all, all that shit.
HMA: How do you get in the zone for recording and playing live?
DAN: In the studio it’s a total different process – you’ve done all the hard work in terms of writing the song so it’s very much just a case of executing it. It’s probably harder for Loord as he’s got to move more limbs, but for us we can do like three takes of each section and go, “Right move forward, try this, try that.” Me and Pin swap so it’s not always him on the left and me on the right – we might go, “OK dude why don’t you play all of that bit and I’ll play all of the next one?” We just alternate sections. Some suit his style better than mine… that’s kind of how we do the studio. In the live scenario we’ve plotted the set out, all the songs are played to a click and we rehearse the set as much as we possibly can – not as much as we should because we’ve been so busy – we’ve had about three rehearsals before this tour which has been intense. But we’ve all got backing tracks from the album so we can play along to those to practice with at home. Dan’s playing to click and we’re all playing along to him. We practice at home a lot, so everyone’s up to speed – once we get in the room everything’s already sounding pretty good. Mikee and Justin rehearse on their own elsewhere and then come down for a couple of days to join the band so they don’t shoot their voices out. In terms of prep pre gig, Dan’ll be warming up in here on his practice pad and we’ll be playing our guitars just warming our fingers up. We’ll all have a drink, we always have a drink before we go on, get a bit pissed and in the mood! No one does any hard drugs and shit like that, so beer and jumping up and down is our drug! The adrenaline starts kicking in because you can hear all the kids and you start to get the butterflies which makes you alert. Once you’re inside the song it’s kind of like… if I showed you now how to play a Sikth song it would take a little while, I’d have to engage my brain, as it’s all muscle memory – so once the song starts you’re just keeping up with it and once it’s finished, you don’t know what’s happened – that’s honestly what it feels like! You start pulling silly faces and you’re sweating, you’re not putting it on – it’s really hard to play. You’re just trying your hardest to keep up with the song. It’s quite a cathartic experience actually – you basically just make a fool of yourself pulling faces in front of loads of people, that’s what being in Sikth is all about!
Interview and photos by Adam Stanley – Copyright 2016 © Heavy Metal Artwork. All rights reserved.