INTERVIEW: Steve (SCALPHUNTER)
If you like your punk rock loud, proud and guaranteed to worry your cardiologist, no doubt you will already be familiar with Perth's favourite thrashing punk rascals Scalphunter (and yes, it is a comic book reference, more on that later) - but for those that are yet to have the pleasure, Scalphunter are the type of band that will melt your face and then take you out for a nice seafood dinner afterwards. Equal parts high octane and gentlemanly grunt, this blistering quartet have been slaving away at their songs and infamous live outings since 2009, but more recently they have been hard at work perfecting their brand new album 'Lies' which is leaping out of the gates this Friday 29th September.
Scalphunter wrote and then set fire to the book on a whole new breed of punk and thrash influenced rock and roll, and while their sound has tentatively evolved over time there's still one certainty that remains: this is a group ferociously driven to push their own boundaries, while also genuinely connecting with their adoring fan-base.
Recorded at Electric City Studios with Adam Round (Voyager, Tame Impala), 'Lies' is a perfect showcase of the band's ambitiously aggressive and innovative sound, but before the album explodes into the world this Friday, larger-than-life frontman and amazing human Steven Knoth took some time out to chat influences, sonic evolution and being a VIP JB Hi-Fi visitor.
TIANA: My first question is one I hate asking - but as a closet comic nerd I can't help myself. Scalphunter - is the name a not-so-thinly veiled reference to the Marvel villain? Is it even a comic book reference, or am I reading too much into this?
STEVE: 100%. Yeah. Side-note, though, there was a Marvel and the DC Scalphunter. And it was actually the DC version...
TIANA: Dammit. 50/50 and I blew it!
STEVE: You were so close! But, side-note on the side-note I actually didn't know that and I had just morphed the two together over the years, and it wasn't until someone very cluey pointed out that I was actually drawing on half of the Marvel one and half of the DC one. So technically we both win.
TIANA: Now being Perth boys...you've had a lot of success along the way, this year you've just recently rocked out at Big Sound, you've taken out the WAM Award for Best Punk/Hardcore act for the second year in a row, you've signed on to Premier Artists...and everything I read you guys are just absolutely beloved. But what are you feeling about the industry over on the west coast right now?
STEVE: The scene is fantastic over here, as far as sort of heavy music goes, right now it's really geared towards DIY-punk and real garage-y punk, that's going nuts at the moment. We've been around for a while and established ourselves so we're not ever going to change for a scene but it's kind of interesting to see it sort of changing and unfolding right in front of our eyes.
TIANA: You guys can just sit back and let it all catch up to you.
STEVE: Either way, we're happy to be the odd ones out and we kind of feel like we always sort of have been really. We're this sort of hard punk-n-roll band, and there's maybe one or two bands we've felt a kindred with along the way, but for the most part we've sort of felt like we've just been doing our own thing.
TIANA: And Scalphunter's been kicking around since 2009, yes?
STEVE: Yeah '09, me and the guitarist Alex started the band.
TIANA: You guys have that speedrock-y sound, but more so on your earlier stuff, was that always the sound you guys always wanted to take back in the day?
STEVE: At the start it was exactly all we wanted to do, really (laughs). With the members that were in the band then, we were just all into things like Turbonegro, The Hellacopters and all the fast rock and roll stuff. And it wasn't until about 2012 when Ash and Matty joined the band, they brought in more of those hardcore influences. We'd done all we really could as a speedrock band so we were really keen to start writing some more diverse songs
TIANA: It's interesting just from what I've heard myself, there has been an evolution for the band but you've still retained that original sound you've had from day one. It's nice to see that still there ever so slightly...
STEVE: Well that's awesome because that's really important to me that we always stay true to ourselves, so that's great to hear. You're wonderfully observant (laughs).
TIANA: And you yourself, what kind of music did you grow up listening to, were you always into those heavier bands?
STEVE: (laughs) No, not at all. The first, I guess "niche" music was hip hop for sure. And I'm still massively into hip hop now...I deliver quite a lot of the (Scalphunter) vocals in sort of a hip-hoppy way, even though they're half screamed. So I was into hip hop and me and my brother always wanted to be rappers, and he's still a hip hop DJ now. The reason I got into guitar music was because....so I'm from England, and the Brit-pop scene exploded in the early 90s and I started listening to guitar music and then from that I was researching the Manchester Brit-pop scene and I got into Joy Division and Sex Pistols and then Stooges, MC5 and then on and on it went!
TIANA: A slippery slope into awesome!
STEVE: Yeah! My punk rock obsession, I'm still learning! I'm still finding bands that I love, old bands and new bands now.
TIANA: That's the best thing, I think, about that kind of music is that there's so much of it and a lot of it is still hidden, so it's fun to be able to constantly still be discovering it...
STEVE: It is, cos it's still not massively accessible even given the nature of how people consume music now. It's so easy, but it can still be quite hard to get a hold of a lot of niche punk-rock bands that haven't really moved over to the digital world.
TIANA: Which is kind of the whole point of punk, isn't it, not to be doing what everyone else is doing!
STEVE: Yeah, I personally still go down to JB Hi-Fi and buy my CDs. A guy at the JB Hi-Fi that I go to reckons that he keeps the punk section open pretty much for me (laughs). I'm still pretty old-school. We're on Spotify and whatever, but I've literally never listened to us on Spotify. I don't even have Spotify.
TIANA: And Scalphunter's live act is legendary, you guys have been nominated for Best Live Act at the National Live Music Awards, but how do you actually ramp it up for these shows?
STEVE: How you see me onstage, that's me as a human being (laughs). I never miss out on an opportunity to socialise with other people and get close to people and talk to them, and hug them and kiss them...I just love being around people and spreading positive energy! There's just too much negativity in the world, I'm not this tough, hardcore punk rock guy that spits on the audience, that's just not me. And if people want that, I'll never give that to them. No ritual, just being onstage with the lights on for all of the four guys in the band, we're in our home then. There's no nerves, just excitement and we just love it.
TIANA: I've seen you guys have played with some pretty amazing bands, Totally Unicorn, King Parrot and many, many others....has there been a favourite band you've played with or supported over the years?
STEVE: Um.......The Misfits show, that was really cool....oh Dwarves, actually. We played with Dwarves, we're all big Dwarves fans and they were just all the most humble guys. And honestly, a lot of people say meeting their heroes, not that I consider anyone a hero of mine (laughs), but Nick Oliveri was just an absolutely humble, nice guy and he sat and he spoke to every single person that went to the gig and had time for everyone. And if I was ever in that position that's just that's just the kind of person I'd want to be. I'd just want everyone to have a piece of my time because they've come out to see the band and I just appreciate that so much.
TIANA: It's a refreshing change of pace, and it's definitely what a lot of those eternally successful bands seem to have done right.
STEVE: Absolutely, and we wouldn't be going still without our fans because, as you said, we've been together since 2009, we've asked a lot of our local scene. We've just played hundreds and hundreds of shows in Perth, and I'm not even joking. Hundreds and hundreds and they keep coming and they keep spitting the words back in my face, keep buying new t-shirts...and they feel like our close friends and as much a part of the band as the four members in it. I really do. We're very lucky.
TIANA: So not only have you guys been playing hundreds of shows and crafting this crazy, ferocious sound...but also this Friday we're going to see your debut album 'Lies' unleashed!
STEVE: Absolutely! Finally! It's been a long time coming. We've got a few EPs under our belt, but we never felt like we ever hit any kind of mark with the recordings that could live up to our live show. But we finally got the guy, Adam Round, that we really wanted to make the record with. He's like the busiest guy in the world, Tame Impala's live sound technician and produced Voyager and a whole heap of crazy bands. So we got him, we didn't think we would, and we knew it would take a bit longer than normal. But it's finally coming out and everything's done and we've got the CDs in our hands, and it's like....thank god!!! We can release this bunch of songs and then move on. We've already got 6 songs ready to go live, so we're just looking to put that album down and then move on with our lives (laughs).
TIANA: And in the lead up to the release there's been a bit of talk about some of the underlying messages on 'Lies' - potentially dealing with some of the injustices going on around the world, and there's obviously a lot more than some pretty-sounding heavy music here...was it a cathartic writing process?
STEVE: Lyrically I'm the only one that contributes, but musically it's a complete combined effort. But lyrically, that's me sort of sitting on my own by candlelight with a bottle of whiskey thinking about how fucked up the world is (laughs).
TIANA: You've just described my ideal night.
STEVE: I know, I love it (laughs). I mean, I can sit down without the bottle of whiskey, but the lyrics are so much better the next day when I read them back if the bottle of whiskey is there with me. But there's sort of two sides to Scalphunter, no agenda will ever get pushed on you at a Scalphunter show, you come for pure fun and that's it, but if you want to engage with the lyrics you can. The album's loosely based on a story of a disenfranchised generation waking up to this drip-fed media world that we live in, capitalism's dead and everyone's waking up and realising that we need more out of life as humans than just to be these working bees, you know? If people engage with the lyrics and then come and ask me about them, then that's fantastic, but if they don't and they just wanna come and get in the mosh pit, crowd surf and go mental - that's absolutely fine with me as well.
TIANA: So you previewed the album briefly while you were up in Brisbane earlier this month, but your official launch is happening in October. What can fans expect for this extra special occasion?
STEVE: I've actually been asked this a lot and I keep saying that as a band you can never tell us how to play live. It's spontaneous, we don't plan anything. All you're gonna get is Scalphunter going at 120%, a million miles an hour, full of energy, full of love - like we always do, but the difference is I guess that it'll be ramped up cos it's a special occasion, everyone's a bit more excited than usual, you know?
TIANA: Now a question I continually ask people is what's one song or band on your Spotify...wait you don't have Spotify. What's one song or band that you listen to on your CD player that would shock or surprise your fans?
STEVE: Well I guess, any Queen song. I feel like Freddy Mercury's my spiritual performance animal and somehow in the universe we're linked. And everytime I hear Queen I just have this overwhelming feeling that everything's ok in the world. If I need to be inspired or I need energy, I go straight to Queen.
TIANA: That's not-so-secretly my favourite band, so you get bonus points for that answer. And finally, your brand new album which comes out this Friday is called 'Lies' - what's the best lie you've ever told and gotten away with?
STEVE: Oooohhh.....the best lie I've ever told and I continue to get away with is that I can sing.
TIANA: Some may disagree with you, but that's my favourite answer.
STEVE: Believe me, underneath the shouting and the screaming and the husky voice - there's nothing there. Trust me (laughs). But you know, here I am playing Big Sound and whatever and still getting away with it.
TIANA: Well let's raise a glass of whiskey to the greatest lie ever told. Thank you so much for your time, and can't wait for 'Lies' to finally get unleashed on Friday!
STEVE: You're so welcome. Thanks so much!
Scalphunter's brand new EP 'Lies' is available to pre-order in iTunes, and is due out this Friday September 29th. More info below:
BY TIANA SPETER