Interview With 'Mutation'
As the nights grew darker towards the end of the year, something sinister roamed the country, destroying venues and leaving audiences stunned in its wake. Mutation was originally a studio project for one Ginger Wildheart as an outlet for some of the noise and ugliness that lived in the darker recesses of his creative mind. After a third album “Dark Black” he decided enough was enough and evolved the studio project into a trio, featuring Scott Lee Andrews (Exit_International) on bass and Denzel (Ginger’s non Wildhearts drummer of choice) that blasted through a punishing but hypnotic set around the UK before briefly visiting Japan, leaving dazed audiences and rave reviews in their wake. We were lucky to catch up with Scott to look back over the past few months.
Mutation has been around for a few years now. What was the original concept behind the project? Scott: Don’t shoot the messenger here – But I believe “The Frankenstein Effect” (Mutation debut album) began as a pleasure project by Ginger, self-funded and the aim was to create something devoid of melody to a certain point and scratch the itches of his love for extreme music, free from the shackles of what was expected of The Wildhearts. Incidentally, this was the time when Ginger got into the Exit_International (Scott’s previous band) record and I was called upon to provide vocals on a song which almost didn’t make the cut (‘Gruntwhore’ - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5iuJRt25Jo). I was told just to “Go for it”. I recall there being some issues with funds running out, tapes being held ransom, but then Pledge(Music) came along and allowed a platform for it to see the light of day, with the “Error 500” record swiftly following. Essentially a double album hit at once, with Ginger saying one more record would follow. The time was right to make a new Mutation record. I recall after Ginger’s 2011 Birthday Bash we shared a cab after the show to Big Red and spoke merrily of making a record of chaos as a three piece – us pair and Denzel. Quite prophetic. Then I sent Ginger a load of sketches too heavy for E_I, and decided we should make a record together. A week at his Caravan in North Wales followed where we wrote and demoed “Dark Black” in 5 days. What do you and Denzel bring to Mutation? Does everyone have an equal say? Scott: We each brought our own ideas to the table. For example, I was more worried about how to fill the sound out live as a three piece than having to learn bass parts that Jon Poole (previous Mutation studio bassist) wrote and played on the records, which was a task on its own. This led me to some creative yet uninformed thinking about using a pedal to trigger samples, which if fucked up there was no coming back from. I’d never even tried it out until the first rehearsal. Same with Denzel. “Dark Black” was the only Mutation record that the drums were not written by a drummer. I programmed them under Ginger’s guidance and we had no fucking consideration that a human could physically perform them. Denzel hit it out of the fucking park though. Seriously, he is the best drummer I have had the pleasure to play with. Sadly, but unavoidably the other thing we both brought to the table was a multitude of personal/mental issues.
What do you personally get from Mutation? Do you find it a form of catharsis? Scott: The week we wrote “Dark Black”, from the bat there was a heavy cloud of depression and anxiety enveloping us both. I got off the train, met Ginger in the car park and by the time I put the seatbelt on in his car I was told we should scrap the session, yet I wasn’t disappointed. I was fucking broken myself. We agreed to just hang for the night but then we shared thoughts, stories which quickly manifested into sounds and noise and the ball was rolling. The complexity of performing it live brought a different set of issues to deal with. Any second something could go wrong. We had ten days of rehearsals prior to a booked UK and Japanese tour….A fucking stupid idea in hindsight. The rehearsal period deserves its own book, so the live shows were a group of guys on the edge of their seats every night. The catharsis, for me anyhow, was SURVIVING the set each night performance-wise. There was one show in particular where it all came together, made complete sense lyrically and sonically and that with that combined delivery and were the best band in the fucking world for 50 minutes, but a series of events not worth broadcasting made that possible, maybe to the point of being unsustainable and unrepeatable, because the vitriol that Mutation was capable of manifested in its most pure form. For someone who's known for a love of melody and harmony Mutation might come as a bit of a shock to some listeners. How would you begin to describe it? Scott: See…..the thing is I personally do not think Mutation is that much of a shock. It does however require engagement from the listener’s perspective. I think Ginger having covered such a broad range of sounds, vibes and genres it (Mutation) easily gets the shitty end of the stick. If it was a pure project without possessing the ability to be compared to his other work it may well fare better. That was the challenge from releasing “Dark Black” commercially via the brilliant Undergroove Records was then convincing a number of diehards that live it would work. Someone called us ‘Chaos Punk’ in a review and that pretty much nails it for me. It’s slightly too loose to be what I understand to be Metal. There’s distorted vocals, samples, affected and fucked up guitar bass sounds, boxes ticked. Metal to me relies on a taut sensibility and that’s a world I do not exist in. Nothing came from the perceived rule book. Even sticking Denzel front and centre was a risk (their live shows featured Denzel and his drum kit perched on the stage front, Scott and Ginger to either side and flanked by a wall of mismatched amps and speakers). The highlight for me was seeing very small, if not any WH’s tees at the shows. It seemed to be finding a crowd who lacked the judgement.
How does a studio session for Mutation go? Is there a lot of Pro Tools cut and paste or do you all approach the songs on a fairly traditional manner? Scott: Absolutely right. Again, I have to take a shot in the dark here, but with the first two records, there’s an experimentalism present that was never intended to be replicated live, giving the song writing freedom to essentially collage a record together. That said, with Ginger’s involvement it was always going to be esoteric and despite intention melody was present. It’s like Ginger’s shadow for fucks sake hahaha. Unavoidable. Well the first album being called “The Frankenstein Effect” speaks for itself, yet has Ginger’s stamp on the structures. I believe that the same thing happened to a point during “Error 500” but coming more from a jamming perspective. “Dark Black” was Ginger and I hunched around a laptop with guitars, only bouncing off each other’s direction. I crudely know how to ‘home record’ for want of a better term. This worked in our favour, as everything I do in that sphere is purely experimental. I have no clue what is right or wrong where as a seasoned engineer/producer would probably have piped up and started telling us off. It was really liberating. Some of the sections were cut and moved to make something unnatural musically, it gave us the freedom to just make the ears ‘happy’. By happy I of course mean with a perverse grin on our faces.
After three albums Mutation have only just recently made their live debut with UK and Japan tour. What made you decide it was time to take it out on the road? Scott: I believe when I became involved with the social media aspect to promote the commercial release of “Dark Black” we thought it was the time. With 30-odd songs to choose from and a gap in Ginger’s always hectic calendar it needed to happen. It’s worth mentioning I’m doing my bit from Australia, almost 12 hours’ time difference. I have a job here so was putting in 18-hour days all in all. I approached my old friend Tim from The MJR Group who, to his total credit took a fucking huge punt on us. Everything was totally hypothetical until the ‘Hate’ video session (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LvySwEwbXU) which was the first time we played live together. I never saw the distance as an issue; I really wanted and believed we could be something special live. Our Japanese label Vinyl Junkie Recordings also reissued the first two records alongside releasing “Dark Black” and wanted us to perform there, which as a fucking no-brainer as I’d cut my toes off for any chance to play there.
A lot of people have given Denzel a lot of praise on this tour, with his kit being placed front and centre onstage. How much do you and Ginger rely on him live? Scott: Well he is a humble fella, and the first time it was suggested I think it frightened him a little because he became the front man. As Ginger has said many times, Mutation is the sum of all parts. I think Denzel did incredible to put himself in that position and his skills were deservedly rewarded by the plaudits he received. I didn’t envy being in his position due to the level of performance he had to commit to each night. That’s coming from someone doing two people’s jobs on stage. What I don’t think people realize is that he can play guitar and piano like boss. He is such a talented bastard.
How was it trying to adapt the songs to a live environment, especially with it being just the three of you? Scott: As a band I can say the music itself did not present a problem (Well I was playing out of my fucking skin technically) yet recalling the structures during rehearsals took the most work. As you mentioned, the cut and paste nature of the material required an almost scholarly attention to detail. It was to a point like getting a couple of blokes together, giving them some music that is pretty fucking out there and reminding them they have a month’s worth of live commitments to fulfil. It got worrying at some points. When we got into the vibe, it became pretty easy pulling bits apart and working out the best way to deliver at maximum impact. I began my prep months before; I learned each track on both bass and guitar. Then after a eureka moment I felt I could trigger any of the samples or electronics thanks to a Digitech Jamman. It, under normal protocol should have been done to click but we eschewed that. I saw it as my chance to not just turn up, but to become an indispensable, inventive musician as my band mates are clearly both of those terms.
Ginger put some tour diaries out chronicling his time on the road in the UK with Mutation. At times they were quite harrowing to read. How was the tour in retrospect? Scott: This is the easiest yet most difficult question to answer in this interview. I put those diaries up online for him, so it was difficult seeing what was going on inside his head written down. Some days it would be blindingly obvious, then others the diary would expose something not visible to us all. Ginger’s lyrics mean so much to so many people, including myself. When you do not have to think about thematically making a feeling fit the construct of a song I think it was alarming to see the unabashed situational honesty that came out. I think those diaries came to an end at a good point. We all had events and happenings that coloured our experience. I honestly enjoyed every second in hindsight, despite creating and causing some unintentional issues myself. Yet looking back, as fucked-up things got, my ‘Imp of the Perverse’ wants to go back and do it all again.
Finally, next year already sees Ginger performing an acoustic support slot for with The Levellers as well as the triple head-line tour fronting The Wildhearts alongside Terrorvision and Reef, as well as a rumoured Wildhearts album. Are you looking forward to these and what else can we expect from you all? Scott: Ginger has a big year lined-up. That much promised/deserved year off isn’t happening soon by the sounds of things. I’m finishing up the final Mutation video from “Dark Black” which will be ‘Devolution’ which features Ginger, Devin Townsend and myself. It’s directed by Jeremy Belinfante who did the ‘Gruntwhore’ video which completes the circle. I’m also working on a few different projects including more ‘studio’ Jaws Of Deaf EPs with my buddy Carl Bevan, a live Exit_International album recorded last year will drop too and a couple of projects of a more experimental nature. Denzel begins 2018 tracking the new Vennart album and I’m sure there’s a shitload more from him to come.
“Dark Black” is currently available from Undergroove Records.
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/XXMUTATIONXX/
Interview - Scott Hamilton
Live Photos - Neil Vary Gig Photography