“I described you to my friends in Mexico as Apocalyptic desert rock“
“We’re alright with that!”
“It’s a shame you weren’t around before, fella” he said, before taking a gulp of Kopparberg, “you could’ve seen Milburn‘s last ever gig“.
“When was this?” I ask to the guy whose name I never quite got. The River Don shines gold in a rare sunny October day. It’s bright but feels cold as hell. A band just finished performing. I never got their name either.
“May. You would’ve liked them.”
We parted ways and I made my way back to Endcliffe. Later that day, I looked for Milburn. First album wasn’t my cup of tea, the second one, however, was more to my liking. ‘The Genius & The Tramp’ was a particular fave. Lost track of them as they split and the MSc was getting a little tough. Hydrogeology makes weird things to your brain.
It’s that X-Ray Horse night again! The very same one where I got to see Death Rays of Ardilla at The Harley. I wasn’t aware of who Dead Sons were, but I knew there was a buzz. Once they hit the stage, a tiny morsel of land for their set up, the place was packed. Okay, it was “rammo!”, as the locals used to say. It hit me somewhere during ‘Quest for Fire’ that what they were creating was special, a certain type of desert rock with enough psychedelia to keep it rich in atmospheres, but still having a hook. Something you could cling to for dear life when it all comes crashing down, like that maniacal ending for ‘The Hollers and the Hymns’, perhaps their hardest hitting song. My fave of theirs, for sure!
Still buzzing from that gig, I made my way back to my house. I lived in this old house on Crookes Road back in 2010, sharing the house with a bunch of Czechs (and a very lovely Slovak) who always thought I was:
- Selling drugs to bands (because of course that’s what all Mexicans do…¡a huevo!)
- Shagging groupies (not guilty!)
- A groupie (not proven!)
- A combination of all the previous options.
I had ‘Quest for fire’ on repeat (thanks, Reverbnation!) and found that they previously were The Backhanded Compliments. I looked in a pile of unreviewed stuff from Forge, and there it was, a cd-r with four of their songs. Oh, well. I also missed their show at the Library Theatre that year, when they had copies of their Dead Sons stuff. The stuff as The Backhanded Compliments was good, you could feel the catchiness of the Milburn tracks, but there was a fiercer beast behind it all. The Dead Sons stuff, however, that was pure dark magic. The tall drink of peyote and sarsaparrilla you ingest to finally commune with María Sabina.
The buzz and the hype crossbred and spawned a monster. They barely played, creating a certain mysticism around themselves. A couple of free singles came out. ‘Junk Room’ was hypnotic, build on a droning organ line that fed everyone else with enough meth to become heavy metal cacti. ‘Berlin’ came out a few months after, an acoustic track that sported the characteristic “comedown” noise ending that was present in several Dead Sons tracks. This was an earned dash of emotion: a haymaker landing from an unknown assailant in the dark.
We eventually interviewed them via email in that year, just a little before the vinyl single for ‘I am the lord’/’City nights’ came out. Their set during Tramlines 2011, on a fine Sunday, was fantastic. My girlfriend back then was quite impressed and I remember her, with mouth agape, lost in a train of thought during the ending of ‘The Holler and The Hymns’.
Ah, “The Long Halloween”. An unpublished tale I wrote about a very long all hallows’ eve. It started with Firesuite at The Washington, wearing Halloween costumes, having a good old time. After they were finished, I hightailed it to Attercliffe. Crystal Ship Studios was buzzing with people that night. The week after I would be in the tiny pier besides the studio, measuring water quality, preserving samples in tiny vials that had nitric acid. The Violet May was performing when I arrived and their intense show was corrosive to our senses. You could feel the strength of their live show, their biggest asset. A long wait between sets, but no worries, the place had no curfews and black cabs were relatively easy to get.
Dead Sons opened with ‘I am the Lord’. I was in the front and I could feel the droning organ punching me in the stomach. I felt physically unwell but it was worth it, it was their best performance of the song. ‘Elevator’ was a killer track that night and amidst the flashing lights, fog and roaring sounds, I could feel myself getting woozy. It would be a cliché to say it was life-changing, so I will just say it was a special night and I’m glad I soaked into that musical ocean. I ran into Leki from Wet Nuns that night too. He was tending the bar and we talked for a while. He was always a good chat and meeting him, in a sea of people, was pleasant. He always had a smile for you and I never thanked him enough for that.
Heck, had I known my mug would’ve ended up in a video, I would’ve smiled a little more often.
A strong year for the band. The final prep work on their debut album was over. Final mixing and tracklisting was now the priority. I heard rumours, all the time, from people “in the know” about the contents of the album. “Elevator is remixed”. “Lyrics for Hold On are different.” “Old songs? That’s filler!” “I don’t know why they take so much.” “They hired a chorus for a new track.” “Bernie will sing 4 songs.” Some truths, some lies, all speculation. The album wouldn’t come out until January of 2013, so 2012 was spent fine tuning the monster, with a couple of gigs to keep us, the ruddy fans who never want to let go, occupied. Nothing on the level of supporting Arctic Monkeys in 2011 at Don Valley Stadium, but, heck, I got into these gigs, not the stadium one. Selah.
Tramlines was a fierce one. They had a slot on the main stage on Friday eve, just after The Violet May. ‘Ghost train’ and ‘Hangman’ were getting stronger, their live show was mesmerising. In just two years, Dead Sons had graduated from tiny stages into one that could let them display their prowess. By this stage, the rumours amounted to that: rumours. It was aggressive, catchy, unbelievable energetic. A couple of friends in Mexico started asking about them. They said they were mentioned by websites in blogs in Mexico. They got to #2 in Turkey. It was all rolling.
I can’t remember any other gig at The Leadmill that was as packed as the one they had in September 2012. That same night, Dr. Who was back with a disappointing episode. Daleks again? Fuck off! I was glad I was there, front line, trying to get some good shots and enjoying the show. This gig takes place around when the visa problems started to mess up with both my writing schedule and Uni work. That night, all those problems washed away, with ‘Gasoline’ and ‘Stuck in a maze’ assuaging the fears and the uncertainty away.
A Saturday gig in November seemed like the proper time for a follow-up interview. I remember leaving sediment samples in the muffle furnace in Kroto Building. Since the process lasts ages (four hours – I’m fidgety!), I could go to the Bowery, interview them after their soundcheck, come back, record the weights and then run back for the gig. Joseph Green finished punishing the drums and looked at me. “You alright?” I told him I was there for the interview and he told me to go upstairs. Luke, Ryan and Bernie came to the room. Joseph still had some drum stuff to sort out. We talked about the upcoming album. The Hollers and The Hymns was indeed a mix of previous songs and new ones. ‘Hangman’ was chosen as a first single because it had a good mix of “radio-friendly melody and still was heavy enough for our liking“.
I agreed. It was a warning. You know how we sound, so turn it up! ‘Elevator’ wasn’t going to be re-recorded and was not included at all. They were going to move away from a few of the older songs. The rumour about older songs being re-recorded was true, they felt they could do them better, having figured out their signature sound. Just like a draft revisited and enriched with the wisdom of years. Besides, this album was recorded at Crystal Ship Studios and they wanted all songs to have the same feel and sound. I remember that Johnny Cash‘s cover of ‘Personal Jesus’ was playing below. His raspy voice, on full blast, while we talked for a good fifteen minutes. It was a great chat with them. The show at Bowery was brilliant and I managed to finish all my sediment work that night. Except the stats, because fuck, statistics is a beffudling subject.
That would be the last time I would see them live. I ran into Bernie late June of 2013. He noticed I was feeling a bit under the weather and made some small talk outside the Sainsbury’s in Broomhill. It’s the little things, you know? Thomas Rowley joined Arctic Monkeys for their tour, so Dead Sons stopped on March 24, 2014. Luke, Joseph and Ryan started Howls, releasing a couple of tracks. Dead Sons released ‘Ape Heavy’ in 2015 and reunited for a Leadmill sold-out gig in December 2015. It looked like it was a great one, but it was clearly stated it was a one-off.
Now, with the Milburn reunion on full gas, I assume Dead Sons have vanished into the distance, like Clint Eastwood at the end of High Plains Drifter. Thanks for all the sins, sirs, I always enjoyed your gigs and your Apocalyptic Desert Rock.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López