History Of Guns (HOG) has been around in different incarnations since the mid 90s. A gothic/future industrial group, they caught the ear of goth guru, Mick Mercer in the early 2000s, and he named them as an act to watch. We last heard from them in 2011, and then they went on a hiatus. Come 2022, HOG have a core three members plus the drive to create under the moniker again, which brings us to the latest album, Forever Dying In Your Eyes. Del Alien (vocals) and Max Rael (keyboards, programming) are the two original members joined by Jamu Knight (guitar) and the new release is full of future punk angst, loathing and screw the world attitude. Max, never go the full Marillion, I think Jamu deserves extra cake/beer and if you want to know why, then here is an interview…….
Welcome to the portals of light and darkness which are situated in the Onyx lounge room for convenience. Not sure what exactly they do, but they make a great lighting effect for parties.
HOG: Thank you for having us! We love a good portal. We’ll try not to get distracted by them.
History Of Guns has been around in one form or another since 1996. How did it all kick off for you guys?
Max: Del and I were both recruited by a madman called Stagger Lee into a band called Pre-Hate Machine and History Of Guns kind of evolved out of that…
Del: History Of Guns was something I had been looking for, for years. It all started in a pub over a chat to a stranger about his painted Sisters of Mercy jacket. We got talking and a few weeks later he introduced me to Max in another pub. We then spent every weekend in the studio, often all day, and often all night. We have boxes and boxes of tapes from those days that would take years to get through.
What was it like for in those heady days of youth (and excess as the 90s seemed full of that), playing to large crowds and pulling the attention of one Mick Mercer?
Del: We had some amazing times, and you don’t just walk away from that… When we started gigging, that was bloody great for me, the adrenalin buzz, WOW, I was being me for the first time and have never remembered a gig, not because I was pissed or anything like that but because that moment in time seemed to separate itself from reality.
Max: It all seemed so limitless. Jamming, partying, clubbing. Looking back, we could’ve maybe tried to things a bit more seriously earlier on, but we were having such a great time just playing and staying up all night talking. Playing Whitby Gothic Weekend was a highlight and the Futurepunk events in Camden in London. We have a lot of love for Mick Mercer, he’s supported us right from the beginning.
Do you think there has been a change in the goth/industrial scene since then?
Max: That’s a tricky one, as there’ve been times when we’ve been more involved in the scene in the UK than others. It’s sad there’s less clubs around, but then we’re not as young as we were… being out late-night clubbing isn’t compatible with having a family. We used to go to every Whitby Gothic Weekend, and keep meaning to get back there, but it’s been a while. It’s great that Joel’s running the Goth City festival in Leeds. I’d love to go back to Wave Gotik Treffen again in Leipzig. I guess thinking globally, we’re even more out of touch than we are here in the UK so not best placed to comment.
Del and Max, you are founding members. What is it like for you both to have been involved in this project for this amount of time?
Max: We’ve been through so much together over the years, both in the band and in our personal lives. When we don’t see each other for a while, I have to remember that Del’s internet persona on Facebook is very different to the Del I know in real life. Like many long-running double-acts we love each other, but we argue and fall out a lot. Things can escalate really quickly. We’ve both made many mistakes over the years, and at some level blame each other for History Of Guns not having been more successful or making any money. Basically, I do all the work, and then Del criticizes it, and I don’t take criticism very well and get upset, and then Del calls me a snowflake, and I say he lacks empathy, and it goes from there… But then these days we make up pretty quickly. I think Jamu wondered what he’d gotten into when he first joined.
Newest member is guitarist Jamu. How was he lured…into the fold so to speak?
Jamu: Del knew I was a guitarist and by hook or by crook, we ended up trying to start a project called “Mystery of Graves”. After hearing the sort of stuff I could do he called Max, and he popped over with his ivories, and it kicked off from there really, but I was very, very drunk after that…
Del: It always happens in pubs and clubs, people find out you’re in a band and they tell you they can play. Well, I have often given people a chance and met some bloody laughable characters that probably in their mind could play, and Max and I have paid studio time and just looked at one another, no words needed! Jamu is a strong character, he’s likeable so I gave him a go and he blew my mind, so I rang Max and said you have to hear this, and so that was that sorted! I think if we get to spend more time in the studio he will let rip more. I think he holds back (don’t tell him I said that… Oh damn! Odds are he may read this interview!)
Daniel Vincent is a member of Decommissioned Forests with Max but also appears on the new album. Can you tell us about the these shadowy fellows in the background?
Max: Daniel Vincent is best known for The Resonance Association (which I’d heartily recommend to anyone who likes instrumental music that pushes genre boundaries). I’m lucky enough to have been friends with him for many years. He’s been into the guns world and jammed and collaborated with us before and just about survived, we’ve remixed each other, and Del guested on vocals on a TRA track some years back.
Also, we have Jason Knight who used to play guitar in Deathboy and was our live drummer for a bit, and then our long-term collaborator and my oldest friend, Gary Hughes, who has, I think, made an appearance on every album we’ve done. We’re very lucky to have Bob Barker back for the artwork. Bob, alongside the stunning photographer Scott Wylie, was responsible for the artwork for our third album, “Acedia” that I’m naked in, so we know we can trust him.
The new album is “Forever Dying In Your Eyes” and it has been 11 years since your last full release. How exciting was it to get the new album out and what prompted you to do so?
Jamu: The album “Forever” was, I thought, supposed to be an EP, but we just kept writing more stuff, it grew into what we have released. I personally am very proud of how it turned out.
Max: When I came back to music after taking a break to do a horribly demanding college course, I was going through phases of enjoying playing and writing but kept found myself questioning everything, and doubt is poison for trying to mix or finish anything. I kept questioning what was our motivation for releasing new music. There had to be a valid reason and I wasn’t sure what it was. It’s not like we’re doing it for the money, and posterity is just as vulgar as money. And if it’s for validation or hoping for good reviews to prop up a struggling ego or hoping for a little self-esteem boost then that’s all wrong. History Of Guns has always been a universe co-created by Del and I that we invite other musicians to join and then we create a world together. Sometimes that’s just for an afternoon jam session that never gets heard after the session, but sometimes we create a world and feel some kind of urge to communicate it outwards to see if it connects and lands with any listeners out there. It’s been a while, but, “Forever Dying in Your Eyes”, is our latest communication to the outside world.
Del: Bloody life gets in the way. What are we doing? Why have we stopped turning out music like we used to? Depression? Work? Relationships? Society in general? Who knows but they are all my enemy that stops me doing what I want to do.
Your last release was “Whatever You Do, Don’t Turn Up At Twelve” which came out in 2011. How do you think your sound has progressed between these two albums?
Max: The wheels were coming off after the collapse of the “Acedia” tour and the rest of the band quit. Looking back, we should have stopped and taken some time out, then maybe split the album 4 material into two separate EPs as we were very much disintegrating and falling apart as I was trying to finish it. I pushed on past breaking point to get the album done and decided to include our own collapse as a key theme of the album. At some level I knew it was destructive, there’s a lyric that goes, “these songs aren’t making you better, these songs are making you worse.” I couldn’t get sober vocal takes, so after many exasperated tries I decided to include the drunken takes as part of the disintegration, which in retrospect I don’t think I’d do again.
Our two most successful albums have been the first and third, “Flashes of Light” and “Acedia”, and although one is electronic, and the other is full 5-piece band, they’re both focused in one coherent style of music and self-contained, whereas albums two and four genre-hop and are pretty chaotic to listen to. For the new album, it was clear we should try and focus again. Ground ourselves with a solid foundation which could either be a final album, or a starting point for a new chapter. This was made a lot easier by having Jamu on board, it helped us form a solid sound and style which I was able to take into the sound design stage for the album. In keeping with the theme of communication, the vocals and lyrics are quite prominent in the sound design, to get that sense that the whole piece is intended as a communication.
“You Wanted To Live” was the first single off the album, which is a very heavy and dark affair. Tell us why you chose this as the kick off track for the world?
Max: “You Wanted to Live” seems to be doing really well out in the world and we’re proud of it. The origins of the song were created by Daniel Vincent for an idea he had for a possible The Resonance Association / History Of Guns collaboration eight or nine years ago, but Del and I were in a bad place (again!) and it took a long time for us to actually do any work on our side of it. Before Jamu joined, we had a session just the two of us in Bishops Stortford with a bottle of vodka and this was the only thing we had to work on, and that’s when Del improvised the main lyric, then we wrote the verses together.
There’s a nod to Wendy O. Williams’ suicide note in there. After the session we went back to Del’s house, and I remember the night ended in a very bleak and dark place, and we didn’t see each other for a while after that. The track became very important to us as we both went on to suffer through some very difficult times, and we’d play rough versions of this track to each other when we were particularly struggling, so the track became an anthem for us, a reason for carrying on. It had to be the first single we released if we ever managed to get back to releasing anything again.
Who came up with the video for “You Wanted to Live”?
Max: That would be our fabulous video director Video Rich from Round Window Media. He also did the follow-up video for “Running in Circles”.
Your second single, “Running In Circles”, has pretty raw vocals. There seems to be a lot of angst in the album?
Del: The reason for the vocal was it was taken from a live jam that was borne at that moment. It was not a good time for me and I wanted the vocals to reflect that man’s pain. Sometimes I listen to it and cringe and wish I re-did them in tune, but would that pain come across? Who knows?
I know Max is very influenced by Coil, but who, musically, have you found influenced you into creating History Of Guns in the first place?
Max: I only got into Coil after we’d already been doing History Of Guns for eight years or so! I think Del and I originally bonded over Killing Joke, Pistols, PIL etc. Stagger Lee was very into Nine Inch Nails and Pop Will Eat Itself and looking back now I can hear all these things in our sound. Going back to Del’s flat after those early rehearsals was the first time I’d properly heard Sisters of Mercy, Alien Sex Fiend, Bauhaus etc. There were also plenty of bands we didn’t agree on and would argue about.
Will HOG be playing live any time soon?
Jamu: I do love the live experience with the guys, and hope we get out there again on the back of this release.
Max: It’s a tricky one. As Jamu says, we’d like to. Ideally, we’d take out a full 5-piece band on tour but that’s a lot of rehearsal time when we don’t live that close and have to juggle jobs, families etc. I guess if the right offer comes along, we could hopefully look at getting a band together and doing a couple of dates.
Who is the motivational force in the band and is there the mopey goth type?
Max: I do everything, and Del complains about it… Jamu tries to keep the peace between us!
Do you guys enjoy the recording experience?
Jamu: The recording process was quite a challenge as bit were recorded all over the place, along with lockdowns, bankruptcy of various studios we went to, it was hard to get a lot done in one hit, but next effort I’m sure we’ll lock ourselves into a studio for a week, with more beer and cigarettes than would be deemed healthy and smash out another kick-ass sonic battering ram.
How do you go about writing these tracks for the album and is it easy or a labour of love?
Max: Most things come out of jamming, so writing is easy. Writing and playing are the fun parts that I absolutely love and the reason why I do music. Recording, mixing, releasing an album and doing all the promo involves a lot of work that I like a lot less, which is part of why it’s taken so long. We’re very fortunate to have Michel from UTM Music Group onboard this time around running the promo. We talk about maybe getting someone else to record and mix so I can just focus on the playing and writing, but then I’m a bit of a control freak and probably need to work a bit harder on letting go of some of the responsibility as it can get a bit overwhelming sometimes. It’s why being in Decommissioned Forests is such a joy for me, because Daniel (Vincent) is the producer, and I don’t have to stress over it.
How much of your own life experiences and moods inhabit these songs?
Del: For me personally, all of the songs I have written, are bits of my life. I try to play with words so it’s not too painfully obvious what the song is about. That’s for the listener to decide. We did a song called “Conspiracy Theory” that sadly did not make it to the album just before the PLANDEMIC started. I’m sure you can see why! The music to it is bloody good, so I’m re-writing the lyric to make it a lot broader because let’s face it, you can’t keep up with this shit show musically, so I think its best just to point at the obvious and let the listener decide.
Max: We’ve always been interested in exploring the human psyche and the human condition, starting with ourselves, and then seeing what’s relevant to others. For me, and Del would disagree with this, but I think in many ways the last track on the new album, “Eyelash”, is a culmination of everything we’ve tried to do up to this point. Part of Del’s genius is to open up and access a completely subconscious layer of his own psyche whilst we’re jamming and improvising, and sometimes quite extraordinary things come out. So again, I’ve kept the original vocal from the original jam because it’s completely open and honest and raw. When he sings, “I hate me” it feels to me like we’ve cut through all the nonsense and construction of self and personality and reached a very core, often hidden part of the self, which I think everyone has to a greater or lesser degree, that part that hates themselves… and finding that, and shining a light on it, for us, for everyone, is one of the reasons why I’m in this band and have released this album.
There’s a lot of talk in the press and society currently about these alleged “culture wars” we find ourselves in, and people questioning the toxicity of things and then seeking to censor or “cancel” things that might be difficult or don’t hold up to a new standard of ethics. But, and this is just my personal opinion, to me that’s going about it all backwards, and censorship is never the answer. The only way to get to a world with less hate and more kindness, empathy, and respect, is to understand that hate, and to stop running from it or trying to just shut it down; we need to allow ourselves to feel it, and only then can we start to heal it. Ultimately, a lot of hate for others stems from an initial hatred of the self.
If History Of Guns were to record an album of cover versions, what would you choose?!
Max: We always used to say in a snooty, pompous voice, “History Of Guns are not a covers band!” But then we did some covers so can’t really say that anymore. I’d like to anything bleak in a minor key perhaps that doesn’t come from the goth/industrial world… maybe “Chelsea Monday” by Marillion.
Jamu: I know Del doesn’t like covering other artists, and I’m not overly keen on covers myself, mainly because I can’t be arsed to work out how the songs go.
What is in the future for HoGs and you good gentlemen?
Max: We have an electronic album which is done musically but just needs a couple of vocal takes to finish called, “Half Light” which is kind of a sequel to our first album “Flashes of Light”. Then I think, if we continue, we’ll build on the writing relationship we’ve started with Jamu and really push things and see where that takes us next. We’ll improvise and jam and experiment and it’ll form into some kind of shape without us trying to consciously make anything preconceived. We’ll keep pushing ourselves to keep evolving and keep trying new things and go in new directions. We sometimes talk about doing a follow-up to our most successful album ‘Acedia’ to be called ‘Anhedonia’ but I’m not sure we, or anyone else, is ready for us to go back there just yet.
Thank you for joining us in our existential crisis, which we never rush because, honestly, how can you enjoy a crisis in a rush!
HOG: We are one big existential crisis, but if there’s one thing that anyone can say about us, it is that we are History Of Guns. Thank you very much for having us, it’s appreciated.