New Zealand’s Beastwars are sadly under-appreciated outside of their own country. Everyone we know who has heard their gutsy mix of sludge and stoner metal has converted The band have just had both of their very fine albums – 2011’s self-titled debut, and last year’s even-better Blood Becomes Fire – re-issued on some rather swanky coloured vinyl, which was enough of an excuse for us to make our man Rob McAuslan have a little chat with their drummer, Nathan Hickey (aka Nato), about the ins and outs of watching the opportunities to tour your album all over the world slip away one illegal album torrent at a time.
Just for the benefit of Thrash Hits readers that might not know about Beastwars, can you give us a brief run-through of the band’s history?
It’s a bit foggy as to our start date, but I think our first show with the four of us was probably seven years ago. We had played one gig before that under the same name as an instrumental three-piece with a different bass player. Matt [Hyde, vocals] happened to be in the crowd watching us and came to our next jam. Our bassist moved cities, so we put the band on hold for a while until I heard James Woods playing for a band called Beretta and his bass tone was incredible! I had never heard anything like it in my life, so I hassled him for about a year to join the band until he did. His bass tone and Matt’s vocals are definitely two important elements that make up the Beastwars sound.
I hear Matt was doing punk kind of stuff before Beastwars?
Matt has been around a long time. Started in the mid 80s doing punk/Slayer kind of stuff and has been through a lot of rock genres. He was in a band in the 90s in London that was signed to some record label, toured Europe and had their video played on MTV, but they didn’t break through though. I kind of think that the small amount of success that we’ve received has been a huge surprise for him and everyone. When I say success I don’t mean we’ve all bought gold plated Camaros – I mean that the band is self-sufficient. We are selling out of the records we’re self-funding to press, and people are turning up to the shows and having a good time. That’s success to us because it means we can do more more music.
I’ve seen a couple of places where you guys have said these reissues are motivated at least partly by not wanting fans to overpay for the original releases. That’s a pretty admirable attitude. Did you consider remastering either of the albums, or are you happy with how they sounded already?
Yeah that’s right. We have all paid a lot of money ourselves for other bands’ records that were out of print or record labels no longer existing. I was seeing our albums selling for up to $150 and it just felt really wrong for our fans so we decided to repress an extra 500 of each album which we should have done more of as they are running in short supply now too. We always said that we would never repress the records and only do it if a label was paying, but we have only ever sent our music to one label before and I kind of thought it might be easier to just repress it ourselves. All the mastering, etc, is the same. The only difference is the colour vinyl and we have put our name on the front cover of the first album
$150 though? Jeez, nice to be wanted!
It is a compliment in some ways but I’d prefer it being accessible to everyone.
Did you notice any kind of large increase in international interest with Blood Becomes Fire? [New Zealand-based writer] Craig Hayes did a great job of putting your name around for reviews all over the place.
I really found that we were getting a lot more attention with the second album. The first one was very organic, with people finding it on Bandcamp then getting in touch with us. For Blood Becomes Fire we were a lot more active in sending it to people, which kind of bit our asses when the album leaked 1 month early! Craig is a legend here in New Zealand. The support that he has given us has been priceless
Someone leaked it? I suppose it’s bound to happen, but it’s always rough – even more so when you’re doing it all DIY.
Oh yeah man it sucked. It’s pretty hard to build up anticipation and hype for an album release when the first Google hit you get back for the album is to download it for free. We were gutted but shit happens. I did have a bit of fun finding all the people on last.fm who were listening to it though; I sent them all individual personalised messages telling them what was up, how much the album cost for us to record and a link to our Bandcamp to buy it if they liked it. Then someone complained and last.fm banned me. There were so many people on there listening to the leaked copy too, made me feel pretty sick. But then you weigh up – is it better for people to be listening or not listening?
I guess the main problem for a band like Beastwars is, you can’t easily make that money back from touring or merch like a European band can.
Exactly. Some people have that rule – download for free but pay for gigs and merch – which I’m okay with, but if we’re not playing gigs in your country we never will be able to because we can’t afford to and we don’t know there is a demand there based on sales. Bandcamp is great how it can tell you exactly what cities you are most popular in, and torrents don’t give you that info!
So to wrap up – is there a third album in the works?
We are working on new songs at the moment and I’m really happy with how they are sounding. The songs are feeling a lot more sprawling with a lot of changes in feel and tempo, but it’s still early days in the writing process. The riffs are heavy, we’re just aiming for more dynamics this time around. We would love to tour Europe, just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.