Contorted rhythms, crushing riffs, unhinged sax solos and a genuine desire to push boundaries – there’s nothing pedestrian about South Wales quintet Intensive Square, who released their incendiary debut, Anything That Moves, this summer.
Richard Holmes talked to bassist Tom Shortt about fusing ‘obnoxious’ music with free jazz… and how David Lynch, Deicide and even South African rap-ravers Die Antwoord have influenced his band.
RUSHONROCK: Anything that Moves has been out for a few months now – are you pleased with the reaction to it so far?
Tom Shortt: Hell yes! We’ve had some really scorching reviews of the album so far, which is what we hoped for. I like to think that people who weren’t familiar with our material or general vibe have listened to the album and thought to themselves, “If these guys are this punishing on the record, how fucking heavy will this be live!” And that’s the situation that I’m most looking forward to – playing these tracks, loud as fuck through big rigs and enjoying the music with everyone in that environment. I guess by getting out and about, playing gigs and meeting people, we will have a better scope on the overall reaction.
RUSHONROCK: Do you think that it’s difficult for metal/hardcore fans to ‘get’ what you are trying to do, or do you think they are more open-minded these days?
TS: I don’t think that people who are seriously into music as a whole will find it hard to get what we are trying to do. It’s loud, obnoxious, music – that’s quite evident and straightforward. I think there will definitely be some genre puritans out there that will put their noses up at our ideas and eclectic sound. Our overall sound is hard to pigeonhole and some people can be put off by that, but Intensive Square has many sonic ingredients that tick a lot of boxes throughout a comprehensive range of genres, and most of those factors make people bang their heads.
RUSHONROCK: What influences Intensive Square lyrically?
TS: In terms of lyrical themes on Anything That Moves, each track is different. We deal with subjects such a sex, science fiction, films, even dreams. Barnes (Matthew Barnes, guitars/saxophone) writes all the lyrical ideas and lines, and then he, Rich (Lewis, drums) and Chris (Haughey, vocals) will go through them and fit them where applicable, sometimes changing or bending lines to fit.
RUSHONROCK: What’s the story behind the Anything That Moves album artwork?
TS: For ages we had no idea what we were going to do for the album artwork. It’s really hard to try and convey the ideas and themes within the album without being too literal. There were so many cool themes, verbal landscapes and twisted imagery that were present in Barnes’ lyrics. We knew that we definitely did not want the aesthetic of the artwork to be ‘metal’ as such, it just needed to be heavy, like a poster for a really horrible film. I was pretty chuffed that the rest of the boys in the band basically gave me free rein on the cover artwork. Their guidance was just that it needed to be dark, heavy, sexy and ultimately touch on the album name – Anything That Moves. For me that was a licence to kill. The album name is a bastardised line from the film Blue Velvet by David Lynch. In the film, the character Frank Booth yells, “Let’s fuck! I’ll fuck anything that moves!” I think that it is Barnes’ favourite film, or maybe his favourite film character. At the time that we started to work on ideas and concepts for the artwork, I was playing around with a lot of different processes using photocopies, dyes and bleaches. I was then pulling and pushing these techniques back and forth from the physical to the digital realm. I really like that grungy, but polished look. For the back cover, they asked me to draw a disgusting sketch of some cannibals. We’re lucky because the boys think that my art style suits the music that we write. They’re both vile.
RUSHONROCK: There are a lot of good new British bands out at the moment, many of them on your label, Black Bow Records – why do you think this is?
TS: Maybe people just like to play more and consequently are getting better at it. It could be down to there being decent opportunities for smaller bands these days: Metal 2 The Masses gives small bands chance to play at a big festival, which is the kind of exposure that most bands at that level could previously only dream of. That definitely helped us along. It’s also easier for bands to promote themselves and gain a following without the help of a label online these days if they want to. In regards to Black Bow, Jon Davis of Conan owns Black Bow records and Conan are out on the road gigging globally. I think this gives him a good scope of the talent that’s out there. When he sees something he’d like to invest in, he does. He knows the scene and evidently there is some cool stuff out there with bands like Bast, Undersmile, and Headless Kross. Being on the label is working out really well for us and we’re chuffed to be associated with it.
RUSHONROCK: Which bands do you feel you have the most sense of kinship with?
TS: I guess it would be the other bands and projects that we play in. Joe Harvatt (guitars) plays in Hark, Rich plays in Conan and Chris plays in Hakin and King Death. For me personally it would be Gas Axe, Hakin and King Death, purely because they are all my mates. We have grown up together and share the same kind of musical values. Any gigs they play, I want to be there. Everyone is really supportive of each other’s ventures. It’s quite nice all that, actually!
RUSHONROCK: You’re one of the few metal bands to employ a saxophone – what do you think it brings to your music?
TS: Originally, the sax was just an experiment. Barnes brought it along to a practice and tried it out over some tracks. I think we were all sold on the sound straight away. I remember when I next saw Rich, he told me that Barnes was replacing some of his guitar solos with sax solos. I thought to myself, “Holy shit. This is going to be so fucking cool live.” I think it gives great texture to the music. It’s another dissonant layer and really adds to our sound. I think that it’s the best instrument for the job. It sounds as if it’s in the same range as a human voice. But when it’s played without the punctuation of a language, it sounds like a fucking entity. And that is class.
RUSHONROCK: What similarities do you see between jazz and metal – and the kind of music you play?
TS: Obviously the way we use saxophone is closely related to jazz, it’s just that in our music the context is different. In a lot of jazz, the sax is usually a lead instrument improvising over chord changes. The way we’ve been using it, Barnes is freely improvising over riffs that don’t have chord changes or standard harmonic structures. The riffs themselves are often heavily chromatic, so that gives him a lot of freedom. When we first started out, he was into players like Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy, and a lot of free jazz, so that has influenced part of how Intensive Square writes. We think jazz music can be really heavy and dissonant. We don’t view any of the music that we listen to as being ‘weird’ or ‘underground’ or anything like that, and we don’t identify with it on that level at all. Musically, we take influence from anything that is heavy, from Die Antwoord, to Van Halen, to Deicide. It’s more about the vibe and the delivery than style and complexity. You can hear and feel when something is heavy, regardless of what’s going on, and that’s what we like.
RUSHONROCK: Your music is pretty complex – how does it translate to the live environment?
TS: For me the music becomes a different beast. When you start playing a track like Gastric Emptying, you get a few bars in and you feel this rush. It’s like, you know what you’re playing and what’s about to follow, but you can’t help feeling like you’ve grabbed on to a massive beast that you’ve created and you’re definitely going along for the ride. Obviously it can be real hard to keep playing to your cues if the sound on stage is shit. Usually the cues are based around Rich’s drum parts, like a nuance or accent within his beats. Sometimes the cues are mental and that can be hard. It can be solid actually. All that aside, the tracks are great fun to play live and there is no better feeling than when we lock in and smash it. That comes across when we play live. We bloody love it!
RUSHONROCK: What has been your favourite show so far?
TS: That would have to be when we played at the Big Riff Fest in the Stag and Hounds, Bristol. It’s just a cool old pub with a small stage area for bands to set up. There was fuck-all room on the stage so I had to play on the bloody floor. It is quite small and it was full to the gunwales. Everyone was really getting into it, even though it wasn’t solely a metal gig. That’s the cool thing about playing in Bristol, people seem to be more open-minded and prepared to listen to your material.
RUSHONROCK: What are your long term ambitions for Intensive Square?
TS: We hope to spend the immediate future playing more shows in places that we haven’t already, and generally try to play gigs further afield. We also hope to do a UK tour. Joe and Rich have been doing an extensive amount of gigs in Europe this summer with their other projects, Hark and Conan. They’ve been having a blast over there and the gigs look awesome. So we would like to get over there and rip it up! Barnes and Rich have been working on new material since the release too. That’s really inspiring, as we hope to be back in the studio next year!
- Anything That Moves is out now on Black Bow Records.