(Comrade Aleks presents this interview with George Birch of UK-based The Wounded Kings.)
Born in misty Dartmoor, raised in vapors covering the infamous Grimpen Mire, doom metal outfit The Wounded Kings started their way to listeners in 2005. The somber Embrace of the Narrow House and the mournful and mystic Shadow Over Atlantis were composed by the duo of Steve Mills (bass, drums, guitars, piano) and George Birch (bass, guitars, vocals); both albums helped the band not only attract the attention of listeners but also to get in contact with Sweden’s I Hate Records, and later in 2014 – with Candlelight Records.
George left the band in 2010, but that didn’t stop Steve, who recorded two successful albums with a new line-up that included Sharie Neyland on vocals. George returned to The Wounded Kings not long ago, and now the band is finishing a new album. What should we expect from it? Let’s ask George Birch himself.
Hello George! Im reluctant to start our interview with such trivia, but what does the band’s name mean? How long did you discuss the band’s concept when The Wounded Kings were born?
Greetings Aleks, pleasure to be doing this interview with you. Steve came up with the name long before my involvement. The name comes from Arthurian legend and relates to the healing of psychic wounds. There was no lengthy discussion between myself and Steve with regard the concept of the band. Steve and I in the early days (and now) just got to work. If the band really has any organising principles they are as follows: keep it dark, keep it heavy, and play from your goddamn heart!
For a long time The Wounded Kings were a duo of you and Steve Mills. Why did you leave the band after recording The Shadow Over Atlantis and what drove you to return?
The decision to leave was a tough one, the decision to rejoin was an easy one. I left because I was restless and needed a change. My wife and I went off and lived in a camper van for a while, travelled around Europe. I took my guitar with me and I did a lot of songwriting. When I returned I played with some different musicians, did some recordings, and some of the ideas from this period have ended up on the new album.
I rejoined because when the former singer left, the guys asked if I’d be up for rejoining. Straight away I said, “Yes, I’m in”. It felt right and required little pondering on my part. This time around I feel stronger and more focused. I also get on really well with the new guys in the band, upstanding fellows the lot of them!
What was the reason for releasing the tape EP Curse of Chains through Sarlacc Productions with the song you did for the split-album with Cough? I’m meaning that perhaps you could re-record it anew or maybe release it with some bonus tracks.
Sarlacc is run by a friend of ours, Martin over in Ireland. He’s a good man, passionate about what he does. He wanted to put it out there, and he also re-released our first album on tape. So no calculated reason on our behalf, just good to keep your work out there.
With regard to your question about re-recording old material, I seriously doubt that will ever happen. We try to keep our eyes fixed firmly to the future. At present we’re having no problems writing new material, no need to visit the past.
The Wounded Kings – Curse of Chains
You’ve finished work on a new album, and the recording session took place in the famous Skyhammer Studio. It seems that half of English traditional doom bands record their dirges there. Why did you choose this studio? Did you see there the men from Witchsorrow or Serpent Venom?
You’ve been misinformed there my friend! We recorded the album with Chris Fielding at Mwnci (Welsh for monkey) Studios in Wales. Hell of a place in the middle of a wooded valley by the remains of a gothic mansion. No phone signal, no distractions, just great spaces and great gear. But we’ll be mixing at Skyhammer in a few weeks. Again that will be with Chris Fielding, he co-owns Skyhammer.
Oh, it’s easy to get confused here! It seems that Chris does the same amount of work for the English traditional doom scene as Greg Chandler (Esoteric) does for the extreme doom scene! How much time did you spend in Mwnci?
Five glorious days and nights. Mr. Fielding is not shy of the night shift. Chris’s ears are like military-grade radars, they don’t miss a thing. Unlike a lot of engineers/producers, he doesn’t impose his agenda on the music. He’s respectful of the band’s vision but he also has a very creative mind and makes useful suggestions to help develop your ideas.
Here’s the most direct question I have: How does the new stuff sound?
I like direct questions and this is my favourite subject at the moment! The new album is a real progression. It’s undeniably a Kings record but it has more dynamics, more aggression, more subtleties, more variation.
As mentioned earlier, some of the songs were taken from some of the writing I did during my period of absence. We’ve re-worked them quite a bit though. Steve’s great strength is his ability to see the bigger picture of a composition. I come up with good ideas but get bogged down in the details.
Production-wise, it’s sounding really open and fresh. We didn’t want everything over-compressed, we wanted room for everything to breathe, the drum sound especially. We worked damn hard on this album and I’ve got to say I’m very proud of it. Can’t wait for it to be released.
Do you have some additional instruments on this album? And what role do keyboards play on the new record?
Mwnci had a stunning Bechstein grand piano — playing that thing nearly brought a tear to my eye! Chris enjoyed recording that one, too. I played a few parts on that, just parts to enhance certain sections, same with the organs and keys. The guitars, drums and bass are the main focus, the pianos/keyboards/organs, etc., add depth and atmosphere. They have to be applied with a light hand — start overdoing those things with our music and the heaviness gets lost.
George, what’s your level of fanaticism in the studio when you face new equipment? Or do you usually use your own amps, etc.?
Yeah, we use our own amps, High-Watts and Marshals, but I’m always open to trying new things. We got some great sounds out of a Watkins Copicat Tape Delay unit that was sat in a corner of the studio.. Myke the drummer has been pretty obsessive in terms of getting the drum sound he wanted for this album, and it paid off.
We care about how our records sound, probably to a fanatical level. After all, these records are going to outlive us. Saying that, I believe you have to let things happen in the studio, you have to be relaxed and open to chances. I don’t believe in perfection. Often it’s the imperfections that give music character and life. You listen to some records these days and it seems that the people making them have gone out of their way to eradicate all trace of humanity! In other words, clinical. Give me a copy of Blue Cheer’s Vincebus Eruptum or The Stooges’ Raw Power and I’m a happy man.
In the Chapel” was released by I Hate Records, and I know this label well and its methods of work with bands – a lot of good releases came to me from them — but Consolamentum was released by Candlelight Records. What is the difference in the end? And who will release “album #5”?
I Hate were a great label for us. They were passionate about our music and were always fair and square. In the end the label change boiled down to the fact that The Wounded Kings wanted a label with further-reaching distribution. Candlelight have that and they’ll be releasing the fifth album.
How do you plan to support the new album? Does Candlelight have some strict algorithm for it?
Candlelight have their strategy, they deal with the press releases and promotion, etc. We’ll get ourselves organised and get out on the road and start performing the new material.
The Wounded Kings played at Hellfest in June; what are your overall impressions about it? About its organization, band line-ups, fans?
Hellfest… where the hell do I start? The buffet was exceptional! Ha. Well there’s nothing like turning up to a festival in a beaten up Mercedes Sprinter and parking alongside ZZ-Top’s luxury tour bus. Helps you realise your humble position in the scheme of things. Hellfest is the biggest show we’ve played to date, we played to about 8,000. At the time it was hard to compute, you just go on, do your thing. On reflection, the immensity of the occasion sinks in and you start buzzing. More please!
Every aspect of the organisation was second to none, the organisers were all welcoming and friendly. The fans were great, a good healthy cloud of weed smoke drifting above their heads. Umm. Grateful for the opportunity, we’re really hungry for more of those kind of shows. Still love the intimacy of small club gigs though.
The Wounded Kings – Hellfest Live
How is it for you to play live songs which were recorded without you? Did you discover something new for yourself in Consolamentum?
No problem at all for the reason that the songs recorded without me still have Steve’s unmistakeable songwriting style, which I’m obviously more than familiar with. I’ve put my own slant on some of it. When I rejoined I had to quite quickly learn the new material and remind myself of the old material. It all seemed to happen very naturally. Now we’ve got the new album, we’ll be doing less from Chapel and Consolamentum.
Occultism and horror – as Metal-Archives kindly hints – are lyrical themes of The Wounded Kings; do the Dartmoor surroundings and local legends influence you as well?
Steve lives on the edge of the moor. I’m a city dweller (as are Myke and Al), but I do go up on the moors quite a bit. I love the moors and I feel a strong connection to the English landscape in general. Environment always seeps into your music I guess, but I don’t want people to think I roam the moors sacrificing goats and performing pagan rituals! You’re more likely to find me in the pub.
The band has its various influences and means different things to each member. We create atmospheres onto which people can project their own thing. For me, music goes beyond concepts and philosophy. It’s a living, breathing thing that shuns analysis.
By the way… I don’t remember if The Wounded Kings have a song about that dog from Grimpen Mire! Do you plan to record its story for one of the next albums?
Ha ha… the phosphorus-coated hound! When I was travelling I reread The Hound Of The Baskervilles, think I wanted to reminded myself of home. No, we’ve not written about the hound yet! We used to play with a great band called ‘Grimpen Mire‘. Unfortunately, the singer, Paul, passed away recently. Ourselves and Conan are going to be playing a show in his honour up in Birmingham soon.
Yes, I’ve heard this sad news; I hope that Grimpen Mire will go in spite of everything. What could stop you from playing doom metal?
We actually played our second show with Grimpen Mire. It was an all-dayer in Wolverhampton. Fond memories. What will stop me playing doom? Happiness?! Ha. No, I’m a pretty cheerful person and I have a lot of fun and that doesn’t seem to hinder my ability to play evil music. The Wounded Kings as individuals don’t take themselves too seriously, but as a band performing and writing music… it’s a serious business. So I don’t know what could stop me. Like every other human, I don’t know what’s in store. I’m optimistic.
Thank you very much George! It was cool to hear news about The Wounded Kings album #5 first-hand. I bet that it’ll be a worthy album, but let’s wait and see. Good luck! Aleks out.
Absolute bloody pleasure Aleks, thanks for the questions. Hopefully we’ll hear from you again sometime. I’d like to thank everybody that supports us, buys our records, comes to our shows. See you out there soon.