SPAWN OF DYSFUNCTION
'Spawn of Dysfunction'
DREW'S PERSPECTIVE – When it came to the recording of Spawn of Dysfunction there was no one more pivotal than Mel C. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking – ‘What British wave of nu-metal meets art-rock record hasn’t been influenced by the chirpy scouse Spice Girl?’
But I’m not talking about her musical legacy here – I’m talking about her chequebook. Having released our debut EP Operation Hypocrite on Sanctuary back in 2001, we were mercilessly thrown out into the world to fend for ourselves.
But it was a new world where an unsigned band could produce and release records entirely without the support of a record label.
Good thing too because all the labels were far too preoccupied with their own impending obsolescence in a post Napster world to care about signing something out of left field. So we started grinding out the album under our own steam, one track at a time, with Pat Collier at his budget studio in Tooting.
It was like being a teen again – jumping in the band van every weekend, sleeping on sofas, eating on the road. And, like any new band, we had a lot to learn as we were trying to achieve a much heavier sound than we had previously. Every week we’d pay our dues at some club up the M1 and scrape together enough cash to record the next song. But when I played our recordings against the things we all liked at the time – Deftones, Helmet, Korn, Tool, System of a Down – it just didn’t come close. I realised we needed some extra help to make a record even in the same ballpark as those bands.
Around this time I had a meeting with Jim Chancellor from Polydor. I guess he took the meeting because we were old friends rather than seriously considering Die So Fluid for his record company, but it turned out to be a productive meeting in another way. Prior to working in A&R, Jim had managed producers and he still had an ear for good production. Some demos had been commissioned by the label for a band whose name I forget, and they had chosen to record them with a young gun called Mark Williams at his studio in Archway in North London. Jim said, ‘You need to work with Mark. He’s the rock kid I was always looking for when I was managing producers.’
Jim played me the demos Mark had done for Polydor and I was absolutely blown away. Archway was where I lived at the time and I had passed the alley the studio was located a thousand times. So, a couple of nights later, I met Mark and his business partner Barney, and they played me what they were working on through the studio monitors. Everything was so dynamic, detailed, and powerful – it was like there was a third dimension to the recording. I was totally sold. Now I had to sell it to Grog and Al – binning everything we had done up until then and re-recording the entire album with Mark.
We’ve always been a tight crew and so when I put forward my proposal it didn’t surprise me that Grog and Al were already thinking the same thing. We were all excited about working with someone who specialized in the sort of music we wanted to make. The only problem now was where was the money coming from? That’s when we heard through a friend that Mel C was looking for a new bass player to tour with her. A year earlier I had turned down playing guitar for the Pet Shop Boys on their world tour because DSF may have had some gigs organized by a guy who might want to manage us and it could lead to a deal. Fucking joke. Nothing happened and I was £60k poorer for not taking the pink pound. So when Sporty Spice came calling for Grog I was like “DO IT!! IT’LL PAY FOR THE RECORD!”. Grog had already figured that out and decided to take the job so I needn’t have shouted.
The album was recorded and mixed in 17 days, and I think three of those days were preparing the instruments. We had been trying lower tunings and settled on drop C. So with Mark’s guidance we were buying heavier and heavier sets of strings and re-setting the guitars and the bass. We’d record, then re-string, then re-set, then record, and around and around. I started to freak a bit by the second day as we still hadn’t got any actual recording done but by the third day the band was making the big fat sound that we still make today.
Once the core sound of the band was right we sped through the recording. Every song had been recorded in detail once already and most of the songs we had been playing live for years so there’s a lot of first takes on that record. The stress of the initial two days was quickly forgotten and we were just all loving what was coming back through the speakers. About four days after we finished recording Mark turned up at my house with the mixes.
I guess I had been blasting the mixes pretty loud all the next day when my flatmate, artist Vania Zouraliov, came up to have a listen. He had already done a cover for us for the single ‘Suck Me Dry’, and there was really no question of anyone else doing the album art. We pretty much gave him free rein to design the CD pages as he liked.
He was always listening to music for inspiration and I wanted to see what our album inspired him to do.
He was really into the band at the time and it was just amazing for us to have such incredible artwork for our debut. When Paul, our friend who started a label to release Spawn, saw the cover he was immediately “POSTER CAMPAIGN!”.
Sometime around the release of the album, Vania came home in a state of huge excitement. He’d been to the record shops in Berwick Street and one whole wall had been fly-posted with our album posters. Even better, he’d seen some Japanese tourist girls carefully removing one and rolling it up to take home.
Getting it mastered was a bit of a bitch – three expensive attempts before Monsterlab in Sacramento nailed it. The whole time you’re thinking people are just going to dilute it down to shitty MP3s so why are you worrying? Well, because we’re not going to listen to shitty MP3s and that was the whole point – to make the record we wanted to hear.
We certainly achieved that. I thought it was such a great album. I dreamed I would be able to thank Mel C from the podium of the Grammys. Alas, I never had the opportunity, but if I ever bump into her down at the gym I’ll let her know how grateful I am.
GROg'S PERSPECTIVE – Looking back at the time we made Spawn of Dysfunction is a little cloudy because I feel like that was another me. Let me explain.
My move to the US seven years ago tends to make that time seem like a distant chapter as it is, but other key elements definitely stand out about it. The title sure resonates. It was an opportunity to create a signature sound without anyone breathing down our necks with their opinions and second hand ideas of what was hot, and what was not.
Who cares! We were at a place where we just wanted to be true to ourselves. We had been signed to a major label with our former four-piece band Feline, and it had taught us some harsh but useful lessons.
You can’t take your eye off the ball when it comes to your art. You can’t be lazy or expect anything to happen by magic. Lady Luck doesn’t appear on cue, and when she does you’d better have something of substance on hand. I feel like I did my growing up through my early years spent in bands. A lot seemed to fall right into my lap very swiftly and very publicly. I wasn’t necessarily prepared for it, and the UK music industry doesn’t like to give second chances. My response was not to become bitter and twisted. In fact, my endeavour was strengthened.
Die So Fluid operated differently – I wasn’t taking anything for granted any more, now I had a desire to create authentic music on my own terms. For the first time ever, I took on session work and used the funds to pay for our studio time. I was Sporty Spice’s bass player for about a year, which was way more lucrative and useful than having to take a job at Tesco or something.
We were inspired by a lot of the heavier and more individual music arising from the Nu Metal scene of the time, but we weren’t in love with the scene itself. It’s just that bands like Deftones, A Perfect Circle, Korn, Helmet, System … presented such possibilities sound and idea-wise. We added that inspiration to the melting pot.
We were introduced to this kid Mark Williams, who was the hot up-and-coming producer at the time. He was young and hungry, like some kind of prodigy, and he’d done stuff for SikTh and interesting heavier bands of that ilk. He totally understood our vibe and we hit it off. In 2002, he had teamed up with a lovely, unassuming, and skilled engineer Barney Herbert to launch Criterion Studios on Holloway Road in North London. That’s where we made the album.
I fondly recall taking breaks at the local greasy spoon, and coining the phrase ‘tone quest’ throughout the session. It was funny but it sprung from trying seriously to capture the richest phat rock tones known to man. Our tuning started in drop D and we pretty swiftly moved down to C from there.
That’s when we first captured the quintessential Die So Fluid thing which happens when bass and guitar interact to make a wall of sound which emanates from the ocean depths. T-t-t tone! Haha, Drew said it just the other day!
I think we recorded the album in about 15 days. We were hungry for it: organised and prepared as one tends to be when spending one’s own funds. We forged a bond as well as the musical bones of what we went on to do with the following albums. The people who appreciated our independent values have remained incredible fans, and I think there’s excitement about how we’ll push the boundaries each time we write.
It is amazing to think about how this early venture garnered the belief of so many who went out of their way to show support. Friends such as Paul Clare, who started up his own independent label specifically to release Spawn of Dysfunction. We’ve continued to work with John Dryland at distributor Cargo, photographer Paul Harries, and certain people repeatedly pop out of the woodwork. They must recognise the drive we have, especially in rapidly evolving times; if you love something you keep going, and you’re prepared to keep learning and developing. We’re constantly reborn.
My lyrics on Spawn were mainly focused on resisting negative influences. I was dealing with escalating traumatic episodes in my family caused by undiagnosed mental health issues. One drama after another. Perseverance, overcoming struggle, and uniting in the face of adversity are still key DSF themes today. My band mates are my brothers. They became my extended family at this time, which helped give me a sense of something solid and positive.
In 2001, I had an attack of pancreatitis, which can be fatal. I was hospitalised and on nil by mouth for a week. I had battled on in agony for several days and even played shows. Finally, Al had to get me to casualty where, as soon as they saw my blood test results, they put an oxygen mask on me. I was told to stop drinking altogether. It was a massive reality check. This was the point when I was introduced to the real me.
Finally, I began to deal with issues which previously I’d been able to hide from under the distractions of a hedonistic lifestyle with its heavy binge-drinking and an undervaluation of my talent and worth. I desperately needed to carve out some headspace in the world where I could breathe, be present in life, and away from the constant family drama.
The writing was raw and more visceral back then, when everything was confusing and sparked by reaction. I can see how the process of coming to terms and understanding things, and then wanting to share what I learned as time went on, affected the material. It was a time of emotional battle and the angst on that album is genuine.
Die So Fluid’s debut marked the beginning not only a musical journey, but of my life as a teetotaller. I’m both proud and grateful that the journey we embarked on is still going strong. We are constantly evolving and able to share our experiences in this unique and soulful way. I can’t wait to see what Drew has to say about it, I’m sure mine is the more artsy-fartsy version, he will expect nothing less.
* Grog and Drew wrote about Spawn of Dysfunction as part of Strata Books' Debut series in 2015.
Article reproduced here with kind permission of Strata Books.