Dave Hunt is not only an extraordinary singer and as the lead singer of ANAAL NATHRAKH he is part of an extraordinary band, but also an extraordinary conversationalist who does not bother with platitudes, but allows deep insights into his world of thoughts and his view of the world. The thematic range of our interview is correspondingly wide – it ranges from Corona deniers and pigs with penises in their eyes to ABBA and BENEDICTION.
Hello and thanks for taking the time for this interview. Everything good with you?
Hi. No problem. Thanks to you, too. Just about good, I think. Busy, as always.
We talk to each other in strange times – the Corona pandemic still has a firm grip on the world – how are you doing with it?
Indeed we do. Without wanting to tempt fate, I’ve been ok so far. My girlfriend had a mysterious illness around late March which could have been the virus, but that’s all we’ve experienced of it directly. But my parents are classed as particularly vulnerable, so they’ve been basically locked in at home since March, and I’ve got friends who’ve had colleagues die, so it’s hardly as if the virus seems remote and unthreatening from where I’m sitting. And it’s hard not to think that we’re about to experience a seasonal resurgence in the global North, which isn’t a pleasant prospect.
At least in Germany there are more and more protests „against the virus“, people believe the most abstruse conspiracy theories – do you also have something like that with you, or is it „typically German“?
In the interviews I’ve been doing for the album recently, a few people have asked me that, and all of them have asked if it was the same here, or if it was a thing specific to their country. And they’ve all been from different countries! So no, it’s definitely not just a German thing, and yeah, here in Birmingham we’ve had protests, too. I think they blame Bill Gates somehow. And also they’ve tried setting fire to mobile phone masts, because apparently they’re what’s making people sick or something. One was about a mile from here, in fact. I don’t know what’s going on with all that, I’m not going to try to understand the thought processes of fuckwits. And I say that as someone who occasionally sounds like a conspiracy theorist himself, haha! But there’s a big difference between pointing to Tufton Street [road in Westminster, London known as a centre for right-wing aligned think-tanks], or something like an actual book by William Rees-Mogg that you can go and buy, on the one hand, and on the other hand thinking that aliens want to put things up your arse because Hillary Clinton told them to.
There is also much else that is in disorder: Britain is heading towards a no-deal Brexit, the climate crisis is manifesting itself in California burning, an all-decisive election is pending in the USA, and the refugee crisis is escalating in Lesbos. And despite all this, there are people who do not believe in these problems or who take a stand against it. Are you still angry or already resigned?
You heard the album, right? Yeah, I’m very angry. I mean, I’m far from shocked that mendacity and malignant ignorance are everywhere. But I’m not resigned to it. If anything, it’s been reaching levels beyond my ability to cope. I’ve had to step away from paying too much attention to news media and so on. Ten years ago or so I was quite engaged, keeping abreast of what was happening, principally via radio coverage because in the UK it’s a bit more insightful than TV tends to be. And I jokingly called debate programmes „shout at the radio“. But it’s got to the point where I can’t listen to the news without screaming at the radio and stabbing at the off button before the chest pains kick in. Britain, in particular England, is a fucking political cesspit. Plenty of other places are hardly any better, and many are worse. These are not good times in global affairs. Good for inspiration for ANAAL NATHRAKH, perhaps, but that’s not a good thing for the world!
When did you realize that Corona would also affect you specifically, your life and the activities of ANAAL NATHRAKH?
It was really around the second week of March, when I saw that over 800 people had died in one day in Italy. And then it became clear that the UK government were getting it wrong and reacting too slowly. In Germany you locked down on the same day, I think, but you were about two weeks behind us in the progress of the virus, so effectively you locked down two weeks before us in epidemiological terms. Apparently that would have saved over 10,000 lives if it’d have happened here. And I believe that was a choice the authorities here made. It wasn’t because they lacked information – they had access to the same information from other countries that other countries did. Far more than was available to the public, I’m quite sure, or at least with far better advice explaining what the data meant.
But on an every-day level, my girlfriend works in a pub, and the real indicator that the government didn’t have a clue was that they announced at 5pm on a Friday that pubs would not be able to open the next day. 5pm on a Friday. They didn’t say pubs had to close immediately, or make the announcement in the morning. During a pandemic, they essentially guaranteed that millions and millions of people would rush out to spend that evening crammed into pubs across the whole country because it was the ‘last night party’. Or maybe they actually did think they knew what they were doing, and wanted lots of people to catch the virus. Herd immunity. Anyway, that was when it really seemed that everything was going to get pretty difficult. And our expectations of getting a release date from Metal Blade, which was what we were waiting for until then, all of a sudden looked a bit silly an unimportant.
Concerts are not possible at the moment – how hard does that hit you, financially, but also in terms of the expected sales figures of the new album?
Well, financially it’s obvious – you don’t make anything from shows you don’t play. Neither of us has become homeless, and in my case there has been some help from government – one of the things the UK administration actually got right, though I don’t know about the US, where Mick is – but obviously it has an effect. In terms of sales figures, you’d have to ask Metal Blade. But I’d actually expect music sales in general to be up somewhat – along with basically anything people want to do while they’re not at work like music, games, films and so on. Personally I’ve been playing the Yakuza games and wishing we were playing a show in Osaka again. Lots of people are still stuck at home, or working from home, and they are probably turning to entertainment of one sort or another. But that might all be completely wrong – we’re musicians, not businessmen. We make music. After that, what happens happens.
Did the pandemic have an impact on the making of the album and your way of working?
Not on the album itself, because we finished it just as the pandemic was really getting going, so we managed not to get caught by the full lockdown and everything. What it did affect was the things we’ve done since then, principally the video we made for the track „Endarkenment“. With the video, the pandemic was a double-edged sword – it meant that we had more time than usual, because the album release was delayed. But at the same time it imposed numerous restrictions on how we could make a video. That’s one reason we focused on animation like we did, because animation doesn’t require physical proximity like live shoots do. Also the fact that we didn’t actually meet the director, and had to do everything over the net – he was in the East of America, thousands of miles away from us, and plane travel wasn’t really viable. But that kind of thing can be good, kind of like writing sonnets or making a film according to certain rules, it makes you respond to the limitations you have, and so come up with ideas and approaches that you might not have otherwise. So the pandemic had an impact, but in the end it was just different rather than compromised.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room – or rather the pig: How the hell do you get the song title „Libidinous (A Pig With Cocks In Its Eyes)“ and the corresponding artwork …?
Yeah, it’s striking, isn’t it? That’s partly the point, of course – not to be pointlessly offensive in a juvenile way, but to have a stark image with impact. Obviously it’s over the top. But it’s also intended as a perfectly serious metaphorical depiction of the human condition, or rather the Western citizen’s condition today. The ideal role of the citizen, as far as society’s architects are concerned, is essentially as livestock to be exploited. Shut up, eat your leftover potato peel, wallow in this mud we’ve given you, and when we tell you to move, squeal if have to, but just do it. And as humans, we mostly respond by viewing the world through libidinous eyes, though as often as actual sex, it’s often ersatz-sex, the hysterical outrage and moral panics that are such a feature of today’s world.
The repeated use of the pig motif is for a few reasons, partly pigs are just a representative form of livestock, partly their stereotypical love of mud and so on suits the metaphor. Another feature is that humans, when viewed as meat, are sometimes called long pigs – the pig is one of the most anatomically similar animals to humans. Also pigs iconic in the work of Orwell, and the increasingly Orwellian nature of society is part of the idea. So the idea is not entirely dissimilar to other well-known metaphorical representations of people, be that the Beatles song „Piggies“, something like „The Matrix“, or „Network“, or Orwell’s own fiction. It’s also vaguely contemptuous of its subject, unlike something more along the lines of „V For Vendetta“. We’re not showing the world as we wish it was, with the promise of revolution. We’re showing effectively ourselves as humans as we feel we are viewed or as we function, more or less consciously, in society.
So the image is particularly stark, yes, and that feels appropriate for the times. But it’s anything but mindlessly offensive. I don’t expect everyone to instantly agree it’s profound, of course, but if people can’t see there’s depth in the ideas behind the song and artwork, I suppose it says more about their prejudices and assumptions than it does about the image or the idea itself. In which case, it’s a pig and dicks, respond with „lolz“ or „eurgh“, delete as appropriate and move on with your life.
As title you chose „Endarkenment“ – what made you take this decision? Why is this the perfect title, or the corresponding song the perfect title track of the album?
I thought of it as the opposite of enlightenment, principally the Enlightenment, i. e. the cultural revolution that saw European society move towards rationalism and objectivity and so on. Over the past few years it’s seemed to me that society has been moving in the opposite direction, towards superstition and suspicion of experts. When people disagree about a lot of things now, they don’t seem to be expressing their beliefs, based on facts. They seem to be expressing their emotions, usually negative emotions, based on their desires or other similar kinds of attitude. It seems more and more like it doesn’t matter how much information you introduce into an argument about Brexit, or Greta Thunberg, or Black Lives Matter – that won’t change anyone’s mind, because they’re not motivated in that Enlightenment kind of way. After the pretty long answer I just gave to the pig’s question, I won’t go into another big theory or anything. But that’s at least the starting point of what „Endarkenment“ is intended to mean. Beyond that, there’s plenty to think about for yourself.
Musically, the pieces are generally much more melodic this time – do you have an explanation for this?
No, because to my ears, they aren’t. People have been saying that to us every time we’ve released an album for years. And if they’d been right, we’d sound like ABBA by now.
Have you maybe listened to more melodic bands in your private life lately? Maybe your personal taste in music has changed? The second single, „The Age Of Starlight Ends“ for example, has almost melodic death metal character …
No, we don’t really listen to any melodic metal at all. At least not outside the things like King Diamond that we’ve been listening to since we were kids. There have been songs that sound like the one you mention on our albums for years – the song „So Be It“ on „[In The] Constellation [Of The Black Widow]“ is probably a fair bit more melodic musically, for example. Though in fairness it’s not like you’re alone in saying things like that to us. I wonder if perhaps some people allow themselves to have a general impression of what they think bands are like, without paying all that much attention to the music that the bands actually play. I mean yeah, there are plenty of entirely brutal songs on our past albums, but there’s entirely brutal stuff on „Endarkenment“ too, like „Beyond Words“. And if anything, I’d say something like „Hell Is Empty [And All The Devils Are Here]“, an album we did more than ten years ago, is probably the most melodic one we’ve done.
But anyway, even if I’m completely wrong and „Endarkenment“ is somehow extra melodic in a way which escapes my attention, we didn’t particularly plan it that way. It’s just that this is the music it felt right to us to write. That’s the only real influence or point of departure we operate with.
What kind of music are you listening to in general at the moment, which albums have impressed you most this year?
Most recently I’ve been listening to various stuff that snowballed after I heard „Home Is Where The Hatred Is“ sung by Esther Phillips on the radio whilst driving. In terms of music about suffering, compared to that song, most metal hasn’t got a fucking clue. In the past few days, that snowball effect has meant quite a few spins of „Street Sounds“ by Rick James, as weird as that may seem. I’ve also been listening a lot to the pre-release singles from the new Idles album that’s due out in a week or two. Along with some Grime music, Idles strike me as the long-awaited voice of young people reacting to the shit in the world nowadays. Finding a new, distinctive way to process and articulate their world and their identity through music. Also been listening to the new album by Skeletal Remains, a young death metal band from America, and the most recent Profanatica album, „Rotting Incarnation Of God“. Right now I’ve just been listening to Eshtadur, a band from Colombia I’d never heard of before, but Tidal suggested them to me so I checked them out. They sound very, hmm, Swedish for a South American band. And I suppose that means I’m a liar about the melodic metal thing. As for Mick, I don’t know – I think he’s still got his obsession where virtually the only music he listens to is Elvis.
What is striking about „Endarkenment“ is the vocal variety – even more so than on the predecessor, you provide variety here. Have you ever done professional vocal training or are you completely self-taught?
No, I’ve never had any lessons or anything. Essentially in technical terms I don’t know what I’m doing. I mean, I warm up for a while before shows, and for „Endarkenment“ I spent time using my voice in various ways at home in the build-up to recording the album, just generally using my vocal cords to build up some strength. That’s because before then, I’d mostly been sat in silence by myself for months, because I was working on something. But I don’t generally do exercises or anything, because I don’t really know any. Having said that, I do remember us watching Jim Gillette’s instructional video at Mick’s dad’s house years ago. But, and no offence to the guy himself or anything, that’s mostly because we thought it was hilarious. It’s just really dated, almost like a caricature. But hey, I’m sure it’s helped a lot of people, and I’ve probably uttered the odd „miner miner mine“ myself.
What is the bigger challenge for you vocally and technically – the growls or the clean vocals?
It doesn’t really work like that. It’s more just about whether my voice is tired. And that’s where using my voice to build up stamina in preparation comes in. But beyond that, it just depends on how I’m feeling that day. So the biggest challenge isn’t one vocal style versus another, it’s avoiding going too hard – in any style – and fucking myself up. Balancing the expressive nature of what we do, and how I approach it, against being able to keep on doing it, has been one of the greatest challenges, and it’s something I still have to be conscious of even after all this time.
Speaking of singing: Last year you finished your engagement in BENEDICTION. How did it come about, what were the reasons why you left the band after more than 20 years?
It was unfortunately unavoidable. For years I’d been able to balance everything and remain 100% dedicated to each thing. But last year, I was finally coming towards the end stages of my PhD, and I really had to focus on that to the exclusion of absolutely everything else. That’s hardly surprising, PhDs are hard, obviously! But because of that, something had to give. We work a bit differently in ANAAL NATHRAKH, so I could still make things fit. But with BENEDICTION I couldn’t, I simply couldn’t turn around to the BENEDICTION guys and say, „Ok lads, I’m afraid you can’t do anything or play any shows for the next year or so because I’m busy“. So with great reluctance, on all our parts, I think, I had to leave. But it was completely amicable, and everyone was entirely supportive of everyone else and all that.
Do you still have contact with the guys, have you heard their new album yet? What do you think about it?
Yes, of course. We’ve been friends for a very long time, and that’s not going to change just because I had to do other things for a while and had to leave the band. We see each other a bit less often without rehearsals and shows, but beyond that it’s no big deal. The new album sounds really good, I think the producer suited the lads, and enforced a level of discipline that’s paid off in a really tight, focused feel. Obviously it’s a bit weird for me to listen to it and not be part of it, kind of like seeing your ex with a new partner or something like that. But I think BENEDICTION is in a really good place at the moment, the pandemic aside, and I look forward to seeing how they go on.
Thank you very much for the interview. To conclude with our traditional brainstorming – what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the following terms?
Boris Johnson: Cunt. And much nastier than he might appear. I like the description I heard last night: a horny pile of dirty washing. He has the dignity and statesmanlike competence of an outbreak of oral herpes.
Your tip for the US presidential election: I suspect Trump winning would be catastrophic for the world, as much because of the resultant effects in other countries as anything else. But that doesn’t mean anyone else wouldn’t also be bad. I don’t know if American politics is as fucked as UK politics is at the moment. But I see no reason to endorse anyone.
The drink of your choice when you go to a bar: I call it cunt wallop. That basically means the kind of beer I somewhat humorously believe you have to be an awful, pretentious dickhead to order. Like craft IPA. I fondly hope that I’m not an awful, pretentious dickhead. But I get gout, and out of the things I’ve tried, cunt wallop seems to be the least bad for that. Plus it tastes fucking ace.
Twitter: Twitter is like a parasite that only exists to make you unhappy, and then feed on your misery. Its main source of profit is people’s outrage.
A positive insight from the Corona era: You’re asking to the wrong person.
ANAAL NATHRAKH in 10 years: No idea. We had no idea about the future when we started, and that hasn’t ever changed.
Thanks again for your time and answers. The last words are yours:
Thank you too.