Vinyl is the mark of a ‘proper’ album…
17 July 2015 sees the release of Retronauts, the second album from Leicester’s psychedelic doom beasts Prophets of Saturn. Here, guitarist Ben and vocalist George speak to MR’s Jason Guest about the album, the band, their influences, their love of 60s/70s analogue recording equipment, working with HeviSike Records, and illegal downloading as free advertising…
Thank you very much for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on Retronauts, a great piece of work! So, your second album, what was it that you wanted to achieve with it? What kind of progression does it mark since your 2013 eponymous debut?
Ben: Well, we’ve changed bass players since then for one thing, and that has helped shape the sound. Since there’s only the one guitar in this band, changes to the rhythm section make a big difference. The songs are also a little more complex than the tracks on the first album, ‘Damāvand’ and ‘Ultra Wizards’ especially, and I think the sonic palette has expanded a little. For instance, we spent more time with this one experimenting with different guitar sounds and microphone techniques to bring a greater variety to the tone.
When you were writing for this album, did you have an idea of what you wanted it to sound like or did this take shape as it was being developed?
George: We just wrote for the sake of the individual songs, and that’s how it’s become such a varied album.
Can you tell us about the album title, its meaning and what inspired it?
George: It means travelling backwards through time. Our music is inspired by not just the golden age of psychedelic rock, but also the dusty lore of the occult and the shadowed realms of elder myth.
What are the lyrical themes on the album, and where does inspiration come from?
George: Retronauts is about time and travelling through it into the protagonists past lives. Both ‘Witchrider’ and ‘Damāvand’ are mostly set in the mythical past, ‘Retronaut’ is about travelling into the past, and right back before humans lived on Earth. ‘Ultra Wizards (of Neptune 9)’ kind of spans the past and future and other dimensions.
How long were you working on the material?
Ben: Some of the riffs have been with us since the very beginning, slowly getting refined and changed around. We have a new bassist since the first album, and Max joining has tightened up the grooves a bit and he’s brought in some great new elements to the songs, but also we have all become better songwriters, some of these songs can trace their roots back to three years ago or longer!
Can you tell us about the artwork? Who designed it? And how much direction was given in its design?
Ben: It was designed by an artist called Goatess Doomwych. She’s designed loads of really cool covers for bands such as Goatess and Iron Void.
George: She came to a show we played with those bands and she got our style straight away. We had a brief chat to her, and as a fan of her work I knew that she would do something that we would love, and she did – space babes, giant cosmic altar summoning death, black candles and smoke, it’s all there. We did send her the lyrics for more specific inspiration however. It seems to be based around some of the concepts in the song ‘Retronaut’ in fact.
How did you come to work with HeviSike Records for the release of the album? And do you plan to stay with them for future releases?
George: I met Jay at the bar at a doom gig in Birmingham, we got talking and I gave him a promo CD of our first album. Since then he’s kicked off this excellent label. Jay is a really cool guy and his label has a really good ethos. We’ve been approached by some sketchy labels in the past so this is something we can really appreciate, not to mention he’s become one of our greatest supporters. Cosmic Tomb (an excellent cassette label) from Bristol put out our first album on super limited cassette. That sold out in two days. Then after Hevisike got going they reissued it on CD and cassette. Jay was really enthusiastic to get the second album out, and we all knew it was time for vinyl.
For the benefit of our readers who haven’t heard of your band yet, can you give a brief history of the band, how you formed, and what drew you together to form Prophets of Saturn?
Ben: Duncan (drums) and myself have been jamming together for years, and we’ve tried a few singers and bass players while we experimented with what we wanted to do. But Prophets really took off when George joined us, a few months before we recorded the first album. His vocal style allowed me, really for the first time, to play precisely as I wanted to. And we’re now blessed with an excellent bass player in Max, which has really helped the loose, jammy aspect of the band’s sound to develop.
Where does the band name come from? What inspired it?
Ben: Our original singer Dan came up with the name. He suggested it at rehearsal one day and we all instantly liked it. I’m not sure if there’s any specific inspiration behind it, it just seemed to perfectly fit the kind of sound we were creating.
Who are the band’s main influences? And how have they informed the band’s sound?
George: Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard naturally have been a huge influence on Ben’s guitar style. There’s an awful lot of Sleep in our sound as well.
Are there any influences outside of music for Prophets of Saturn – books, films, art, etc.? And if so, how do they inform the lyrics and music?
George: I consume a lot of pulpy sci-fi paperbacks and movies from the 70s, and also much older books of imaginative fiction. ‘Damāvand’ is straight out of Iranian myth. I have to admit that most of the lyrics feature the end of the world… As so called Prophets that can only be appropriate.
Two years down the line, how do you view your 2013 debut album?
George: We still really like it. We basically went to Kent, got drunk and high on the beach and recorded the whole thing straight in one evening. Next day we did a couple of solo overdubs and mixed it. It’s got really good tones because the equipment they used to record was ALL beautiful 1960s/70’s analogue gear. ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ and ‘Something Stirs’ couldn’t possibly have been better, although we might re-record ‘Belief in Magick’ sometime, on a split or EP or something.
How does the band write? Is there one main writer or do you jam ideas out in rehearsal?
George: We usually begin with a riff, or a bit of lyrics and a melody idea or rhythmic idea to go with the lyrics. Sometimes we just come up with ideas from jamming organically.
The album is coming out on vinyl as well as CD on 17 July. Which format do you prefer: vinyl, CD, or digital download? And why?
Ben: For us I think vinyl is the mark of a ‘proper’ album. With the other formats one makes some small sacrifices for the sake of convenience. Vinyl makes playing a record more of a ritual, more special.
Bands are finding it increasingly difficult to survive, particularly in an ages where sales are down because of illegal downloading. How does a new band such as Prophets of Saturn survive in such an era?
George: We don’t survive, we are all poor as hell. We live on lentils and play music because we love to. In any case our fans tend to value the physical objects and would prefer a cassette, vinyl or CD to a digital download. But we have found that illegal downloading has increased our global reach. We have noticed our first album being torrented on a couple of foreign language sites aimed at metallers, and we have allowed it because it reaches people. Free advertising.
What are your plans for shows in support of the album? Will you be coming to Birmingham any time soon?
Ben: We’ve got four shows lined-up so far for late July to early August, in Leicester, Nottingham, Newcastle and Stoke. We’ve played Birmingham a few times; it’s the home of heavy metal and our label Hevisike. We’ll play there whenever we can!
What does the future hold for Prophets of Saturn? Early days I know as the album is yet to be released but is there more material in the works?
Ben: Yeah we’ve got a handful of new tracks taking shape, enough for an LP already. We’re talking about going back to an all-analogue studio for the next release. In the meantime of course we want to play some more gigs, visit some places we haven’t been yet, spread the Prophecy!
Thanks again for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?
George: Bertrand Russell — ‘Brief and powerless is man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark.’