The 2000 Trees interview: Cage Fight


To call the brief history of crossover band Cage Fight a whirlwind would be something of an understatement. They’ve won the hearts and minds of metalheads the length and breadth of the UK (and beyond) with their aggressive brand of music. Fresh from their triumphant appearance at 2000 Trees, The Midlands Rocks caught up with vocalist Rachel Aspen and guitarist James Monteith for an exclusive chat.

You’re Fresh offstage. How was it?

James: It was great. It’s our first time at 2000 Trees, so we didn’t know quite what to expect. It was early in the day, loads of people turned out, we had a circle pit, mosh pits, and a whole lot of fun.

What was it like hitting the stage at noon on a Thursday? How do you psych yourself up for that?

James: It’s hard for my alcohol problem, because I started drinking at 11am [laughs]. Other than that it was just like any other show, you just have to start earlier.

Rachel: Now it feels like midnight because I woke up at 4am!

2000 Trees is a very eclectic festival. How do you feel you fit into the line-up? I’d say you were probably the heaviest band on the bill.

Rachel: Especially with Nick’s [Plews, drummer] blast beats.

James: Yes, Nick plays a lot of death metal blast beats and I don’t know if that’s happened much at Trees, so in a way it’s nice to bring another level of diversity to the line-up. It’s nice to play this eclectic festival, and it’s nice that we were accepted for doing things that I think haven’t happened here much.

And reaching a new audience, too.

Rachel: Absolutely.

James: Playing gigs is all about the audience. As great as social media is, and having impactful videos to try and reach people on their phones, but playing gigs to actual people, if you’re a live band like we are, then the old-fashioned way is the best way, but maybe I’m old-fashioned [laughs].

Since your line-up was solidified by Nick in 2021, it’s been a wild ride for Cage Fight; non-stop touring, playing with the likes of Napalm Death, Cro-Mags, and a critically-acclaimed album. How does it feel to be on this roller coaster?

Rachel: It kind of took us by surprise. We practised once before our first gig, but it was good anyway.

James: We just kind of rolled with it and hoped for the best. We were incredibly lucky, we landed all these big gigs and it helped us up our game really quickly. Now we’re just rolling with it to see where it goes.

As music fans what was it like playing with some of your heroes?

James: We did a few dates with Sepultura, and I definitely had a moment with that, I first saw Sepultura in 1996, and playing with their guitarist Andreas Kisser, who’s a hero of mine was amazing.

Your debut album has been out in the world for a year now. Anything you’d like to go back and change, or are you totally happy with it?

James: I wouldn’t want to change anything, but it definitely feels like it was a rush job where we got together, wrote an album and recorded it, all within six months. But we had such momentum and energy, it felt right at the time. Looking back, I’m happy with what it is, but now we are more established, and used to working with each other, I think the next album will take things to a whole new level.

When you wrote the first album, I understand you had a stack of riffs and ideas in reserve. So how will you approach the next album with a clean slate?

James: We recorded the album in 2021, so we have a new reserve of riffs, so now we need to turn those into songs. Write more riffs, more patterns, more angry vocals. I feel the momentum is going to start rolling again.

It’s a nice problem to have, but the debut album had such great reviews, how do you plan to top it, and do you feel like the pressure is on?

James: No, because I feel like we can do a better record.

Rachel: I feel like the new album is going to be different anyway.

James: We feel like we are going to explore darker avenues and making this album a bit nastier, and we’ve got new ideas we’d like to bring to the table.

Do you feel as if you might veer off in a new direction?

James: Personally, I’d still like to keep it groovy.

Rachel: Also the vocals will change, they’ll be much angrier.

James: Basically, after two years in the band with us, she’s much angrier! [laughs]

Cage Fight has a nice metal/hardcore fusion going on. I wonder what each of you brings to the band? Do you each have different influences?

James: I think we all have eclectic tastes really. I come from a proggy metal background, but I love hardcore and thrash, and I love to bounce it, that’s my thing. Nick has lots of death and black metal in his drumming, John [Reid, bass] brings a heavy beat, and Rachel likes a bit of everything. She introduces me to new music all the time, she just listens to so much.

So, in the writing process, how do you find a happy medium?

James: Maybe it’s luck, but also musical chemistry, I think we work together really well. We’ve got a new song where Nick wrote a killer drumbeat, I added some guitar, and Rachel vocals, so we have a very organic way of working and I think we click together.

You’ve been classed as “crossover”. I don’t know if you agree with that term and do you think it’s relevant now that genre divisions are more fluid?

James: Yes, we cross things over and we mix things up. I think everybody likes a label, and likes to pigeonhole everything, but we’re gonna keep on doing what we do. We want to make music, and if people like it, brilliant. Obviously, we want people to like our music, but now we want to make a record that we really, really like and hopefully other people will really like it too.

And your angry sound. Do you feel it’s a case of art imitating life?

James: Some of our songs are political and detail the state of the world, and some are more from personal experiences and struggles, and yes it’s angry about the things that are pissing us off.

Do you find it hard to leave that anger on stage or in the studio?

James: It’s a wonderful release. We’re singing about things that piss us off, but when we’re playing them, we have the best time.

Do you feel it’s the same with your vocals. Can you release a lot of anger?

Rachel: Definitely.

You have a reputation for an energetic live show. Do you feel you’ve set a dangerous precedent? People will always expect that from you now?

James: I don’t think so; we’re actually more confident now, and more up for it now, so as long as I don’t break my back and keel over, we’ll be alright! We’ve only been together for a few years and we’re still learning about each other, so I feel the next stage of Cage Fight is going to be the most comfortable and exciting for us.

And Rachel, you have a very unique vocal technique. How do you look after your voice?

Rachel: I always wear lots of layers so I don’t get sick! I’ve been working on my voice lately because I felt like I needed it. There’s a lot of warm-up techniques I go through, even though I’ve been doing it for 17 years, there’s still things to learn. Every day I train my voice for half an hour with exercises, it has to be in my routine, every day.

You must be careful, I know so many extreme metal vocalists who have blown their voices.

Rachel: I did, so I had to change my whole technique. That’s why I said that the next album is going to be more brutal, because I had to change my style, so it’s going to be different, but I prefer it actually.

What’s next for the band? It’s been a hectic few years, so will you take time out, or try to keep the ball rolling?

James: We’re going to keep the ball rolling. We want to get an album written by the end of the year. We’ve got summer festivals booked for next year, and we’ve got an autumn tour booked with Nekrogoblikon, and we’re just forging forward and writing away, going where it takes us, and not thinking too deeply about it.

That’s a hectic schedule. What’s your survival plan?

James: Beer or cider, depending on the weather. Today’s a cider day!

Finally, if I could make any wish come true, what’d it be?

James: Maybe stop time, so I could have a sleep.

Rachel: My dream has already come true, but I’m not going to say what it is!