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We Three And The Death Rattle; Photo Credit: Paul Reno
UK-based indie rock band We Three And The Death Rattle showcases all that is compelling about rock ‘n’ roll by incorporating noise/garage rock, blues, and punk and steamrolling it into a striking and seismic sound that is stark, intense, driving, and tuneful.
Amy Cooper and twin brothers Andy and Jon Bennett raise quite a magnetic racket live and on record, with the band segueing from lively, staccato rhythms to a relentless, dynamic press of guitars and drums punctuated by Cooper’s drop-dead-cool vocal delivery that masks the turmoil of the spare, but potent lyrics.
After a recent run of 3 singles, We Three And The Death Rattle is aiming to release its second album Entrances and Exits on its own label, PAW//PURR, in the first quarter of 2017. Amy and Jon take some time out from the gig circuit to dig into the details about their massive and gripping sound, the evolution of their upcoming album, and so much more.
Hello Amy and Jon! It’s such a blast to have this chance to touch base with you both and get a snapshot of what you’re up to now. You’ve released a string of gritty and lively rock singles over the past several months, with the latest one, “I See Static”, materializing mid-October. Before we dig into that, how are you all doing and where are you at the moment?
JON: Hi Jen. We’re at home in Leicester right now – curtains drawn with the cats. Aside from a little dose of winter flu, we’re doing great, thanks. We finished recording the last two tracks for the new record on Sunday, so that felt huge; the completion of two years of writing and recording condensed into a record, finally.
“I See Static” follows up last year’s striking singles “Black Lightning’s Daughters” and “Stray Rounds”. Even though you’ve put out previous material as WTATDR, this musical triad sounds like a statement of intent. What are you aiming to achieve sonically, lyrically, and/or emotionally with these 3 tracks?
JON: Emotionally and lyrically, we always wanted it to be as powerful as a great poem or book. It’s important that the lyrics stand up by themselves away from the songs on a page because writing, words, and books always meant a huge amount to me. They were my salvation growing up, even more than music.
Sonically, we wanted from the start to make music that had the same effect as putting on a cool jacket and going out onto the street by yourself or sinking a couple of beers quickly after work on a Friday night. You know, that powerful feeling you can’t quite put your finger on that makes you walk a bit taller and makes you feel like anything is possible and really thrilled to be alive. Like the intro to “Kashmir” or “99 Problems” or the chorus to “Lose Yourself”. It kind of exists on Christmas Eve as a kid where some weird portal opens up for 24 hours and the world seems full of magic. You can bottle that in a song. Or you can try. That’s a real gift to be able to give people. Empowerment.
What is the status of your upcoming second album, Entrances and Exits? Can you spill some details about the overall sound and its overarching (or maybe multitude of) themes?
JON: Well, it’s all recorded and being mixed and mastered at the moment. We’re talking to Olya Dyer from The Underground Youth who does our artwork about the sleeve. It’ll be out sometime in the first few months of next year once all the last little details are ironed out. The title Entrances and Exits came from this interview I saw with Matthew McConaughey talking about how he was worried that all of the character-building scenes in True Detective were going to be boring whilst getting to know the less extreme parts of Rustin Cohle.
Then he got animated and sort of half shouted, “I love entrances and exits!” and it set me thinking about all the great entrances and exits in films; how they’re remembered, and it’s the same with a band. People go nuts when a band is the new big thing and everyone loves a band when they break up or reform, but in between there’s this huge part of the story where you’re kind of cut adrift on your own in these murky waters, clinging on for dear life to the side of the raft in a howling storm. I guess that’s called life – hahaha.
How does the forthcoming album compare to what you’ve released in the past? Are you using different or additional instruments and recording techniques?
JON: It was recorded in the same home studio with the same producer as the debut album. We understand each other and that’s really valuable. You don’t give that up easily when you have a creative relationship that works. David Fellows is just a genius in that room with what he can do now. Also we have (God bless him) unlimited recording time there in exchange for the odd bottle of whiskey and smoked cheeses, so we’re not against the clock.
That can be a blessing and a curse. In terms of new instruments, Amy is playing microKORG on this record and there’s some bass on it too. It’s still pretty minimal; we like the challenge of making raw rock ‘n’ roll music with one guitar, drums, and a voice. It means the songs have to be really good because you’re very exposed. That said, after a while the space becomes like an instrument in itself.
Who is the songwriter in the band? On a number like “I See Static”, where the serious lyrics question the essence of a person’s identity, are you drawing from experience or observation, or maybe a bit of both?
AMY: Jon writes the bones of the song on an acoustic guitar, figuring that when you write something, if it stands up and sounds good on an acoustic, it’s going to sound fucking great with a full band. He writes the lyrics and chords for a verse/chorus and then we’ll work on the melody at home. I might change it up a bit to suit my range or voice or whatever I think sounds good; then we take it to the practice space and arrange it all together, wrestle with it and pin it down till it surrenders to us, and becomes one of our own. The lyrics are abstract observation; a mixture of personal experience and things he might have seen and heard that got caught up in his net.
Amy, you deliver your vocals in a drop-dead cool tone that still radiates a burning inner passion. How do you balance these contradictory feelings? Do you have to psych yourself up to get into a particular mindset before singing?
AMY: Thanks! Well, yeah, kinda… I mean, not in an outward way, but you do have to get in the right mindset before you go on stage or record songs. We all do – It’s not like we go off into separate corners of the room and meditate for 3 hours before a show, but I think we would all agree that it’s important to have a divide between being the version of yourself sitting around your house in your pants and then the one that sings or performs in a band, otherwise it’s not an escape for you or anyone watching/listening. I guess it’s more a case of clearing thoughts so I can just sing and not think about anything too much. I find singing to be a form of release and when I am doing it, I’m not thinking about anything or trying to act a certain way, other than doing Jon’s lyrics justice – I just have fun belting them out to the backdrop of noise from Jon and Andy.
Singing Jon’s lyrics at first made me feel a bit like I was stealing his thoughts or hijacking his soul or something, but I have become connected to them in my own way because I’m with him during the writing process and I end up getting sucked into the world he creates with the lyrics. Then every time we play the song, it takes me back to when I first heard or saw the lyrics and thought _“How the fuck did you put those images together?!”_… so it’s hard not to feel passion when I am singing them.
Jon (and Andy), your guitar ‘n’ drum rhythms are massive and super-tight. Do you feel that the connectivity of being twins somehow gives you a musically synchronous edge?
JON: Yes, it helps in that way for sure. Because you are very connected in what you’re doing without even realizing it, but then in other ways it’s also a poisoned chalice, because no matter how much you love each other, you put up with far less from relatives, and especially as twin brothers, than you would from strangers or friends. It’s so much quicker for things to get tense and to piss each other off and push buttons that really do not help the creative process at all. Like rolling around on the floor fighting over who was being too bossy, or who said what about your new shirt or a drumbeat or guitar riff, is not how you get things done!
During certain parts of your songs, you use thickly textured and extended Korg notes. Amy, are you the only one playing keyboards in the band? Do you use keyboards when performing live?
AMY: Yes, that’s me playing the microKORG. We wanted to add in a new instrument that didn’t completely change the sound of the band for the second album and the fuzzy bass and organ sounds on the Korg work with what we have already. They balance out the guitar and theremin sounds where we don’t have bass guitar on recordings, but we still use them pretty sparingly to keep the space in the songs that we have always had. It’s hard not to get carried away with it when writing, because sometimes the pure filth of the sound makes you want to coat the entire song in it, but like Jon says, the space is something we want and we use it as an instrument in itself, so we try to remember that and then restrict it to certain points in the song. I do play it live, but mainly when I’m not singing because I don’t want to be tied to it the whole time – I need to dance!
Are all your songs seismically restless entities (in sounds, dynamics, and words) or do you have a delicate ballad tucked away on a previous recording?
JON: There’s a song on the new record called “Crows” which is a lot gentler than things we’ve done before. We have a really soft spot for artists like Karen Dalton and there’s definitely a side of that stuff lurking in WTATDR that we could explore more. The thing is, we also do a country band called Mountaintop Junkshop which tends to be where those songs end up. WTATDR is usually full throttle because then we can really put on a terrific live show with songs that lend themselves to energy and performance.
You probably get asked this endlessly, so I apologize in advance for this question, but what sparked your band name? I can understand the “We Three” part, but what is the significance of the “Death Rattle”, besides sounding starkly menacing?
JON: We were watching that film one night, Almost Famous, where the kid talks to Lester bangs on the phone and he says, “Rock ‘n’ roll’s over. You got here just in time for the last gasp, the death rattle.”, or something like that, and it kind of went from there. You know, if everything’s been done, let’s go back to the basics and just use one guitar and drums and see what else we can do with the death rattle of rock ‘n’ roll music.
You’ve played throughout the UK and made your way to Paris for the MaMa Festival. Are you planning on expanding your touring pathway once Entrances and Exits is delivered?
JON: We had a live agent on the last record who booked a lot bigger bands and got us some awesome shows, which we don’t do now because he moved to a new agency recently, so it’s more difficult to book shows abroad independently without that level of organization. But once the record is out next year, if you want us to come play in your town, city, country, ask your local promoter to book us, and if we can get there, we’ll try our best to come play. Our fee’s very reasonable and we travel light!
You’re releasing your material via PAW//PURR Records. Is this your own label? If so, what is the business side of it like? Are you satisfied with distribution through Bandcamp? Are you on or considering using iTunes and/or Spotify?
AMY: PAW//PURR is our label. For the first couple of years we had a lot of labels interested in releasing our record because we were on the radio and in the press and for a time we were a ‘hot’ new band, but it got to the stage where the whole thing was becoming so complicated and came with so many caveats. The timescale was completely absurd and before our first record even came out, creative momentum was being lost. In the end we got tired of waiting for the right people to come along and set up our own label.
We always wanted to function like Dead Moon and* Tombstone Records* because it’s just such a nice thing to have total control of when things happen and how they happen. It was a real lesson getting caught up in the cogs of a machine that could easily end a band and I think that’s why we took time out after the first album to almost start again on our own terms and remember why we wanted to do this in the first place. It’s all on iTunes, Spotify… all those sorts of places. It doesn’t have to be and we can pull it any time we feel it’s not the right move for us, but for now we have worldwide digital distribution and we sell the physical records at shows and through Bandcamp, which works fine for us.
When you’re not working as We Three And The Death Rattle do you still hang out with each other? Well, I guess Jon and Andy, you have to since you’re brothers…
AMY: Not often, to be honest, but sometimes, if the stars align more by accident than design, if there’s something we all want to see. We all went to see the new Nick Cave film the other week. I mean, we didn’t sit together but we were all there.
Is there a specific target date for the release of Entrances and Exits? Will you be unveiling another single before the album comes out?
AMY: The album will be out in February or March. “I See Static” will be the last single before the full record comes out next year.
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