29 long years in the making Lawnmower Deth finally return with their latest album Blunt Cutters (reviewed here) on 28th January 2022. Released via Dissonance/Cherry Red it finds the band on top form so the Midlands Rocks decided it was time to catch up with vocalist Pete Lee for an exclusive chat.
What were your early musical influences and what informed Lawnmower Deth’s sound?
I guess, for me, Quo were my first band. I first heard them at a youth club, so I came to metal through that route. Then early Priest and Rainbow, the obvious kind of bands before moving onto the NWOBHM stuff; bands like Tank, but the thing that would have fed into Lawnmower Deth, because three of us were at school together, was when the first Venom album dropped, then we heard Black Metal, and that was it really. We thought if they can do it and sound that raw and nasty, we could all do it and that triggered us wanting to be in a band. The early thrash stuff was a big influence; Slayer, Anthrax, Metallica and I guess Motörhead were another obvious influence because we were all growing up with that. All those bands were chucked into the melting pot and made us want to do it ourselves.
That’s interesting you cite Venom as an influence. When you look at the front cover of Black Metal it’s quite scary but their pictures on the back are funny.
I think when you’re young you don’t necessarily pick up on whether it was scary of funny. I don’t think it was either of those things for us. It was what was heavy before that; ‘Iron Fist’ or Saxon’s Wheels Of Steel, that’s about as heavy as it was getting and suddenly this thing turned up that sounded like a cement mixer and it just changed everything. It was about the noise rather than the imagery. But I agree with you if you look back it’s definitely got that cartoon book element.
I wonder did that cartoon book element inform the humorous side of Lawnmower?
No, that was more about personality. The whole humour thing was never deliberate. We never set out and said we were going to write a certain type of lyric. I think those personalities were already there and because we were all mates before we formed the band it turned out sounding like we did when we were down the pub. It was banter after a few pints, and you talk a load of shit. It was partially that and partially what was on TV at the time; The Young Ones was a big influence on our formative teenage years along with Monty Python, but The Young Ones was the definitive thing, that was the equivalent to Venom on TV.
It’s hard to put a band together and find other people with the same musical tastes but I imagine it’s even hard to find others on the same mental wavelength.
When you’re in a band like Lawnmower I’m not sure there even is a wavelength! The fact that the three of us were together, we were mates, and we were those typical heavy metal kids, we didn’t go down the pub on a Friday night; we listened to Tommy Vance. We stayed in drinking beer and listening to The Friday Rock Show. We were music fans through and through; we were already going to gigs and standing by the backstage doors trying to get stuff signed. So that desire and passion from a music perspective was always there. The band revolved around Rock City in Nottingham because that was where we were going; everyone was travelling into Rock City in the ‘80s and that put a lot of likeminded people in the same building and after that it was just people getting introduced to people. I guess we all just bumped into each other eventually.
The global thrash scene was very localised; the Teutonic scene was very aggressive sounding, but the British scene had a strong sense of humour (Acid Reign, Lawnmower Deth, Metal Duck). What zeitgeist were you tapping into?
I think it was even more regionalised, if you look at the UK as a small island, it was very divisional. You had the Nottingham thing going on with us and Sabbat, then you had the West Yorkshire scene coming through with Acid Reign and then My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost and then you had the London scene and we rarely bumped into each other that much. I don’t think there was a zeitgeist but with us there was so much stuff we could see that was ludicrous with the likes of Bathory and everyone had ridiculous names and imagery and on the other side of it we couldn’t see ourselves as spotty heavy metal kids who wanted to sing about fast cars and girlfriends, so I guess the humour thing was to kick against what everyone else was doing. We had to have a name with ‘Deth’ in and Lawnmower Deth was the most ludicrous thing we could think of so there was some kicking against the pricks but not in a bad way and it was never done with malice, we were music fans, and we did it with love. There was no mapping out, it was just the way it happened.
Although you never made any overt political statements it was easy to tell that your world view was sound. For example, ‘F.A.T.’ was an antifascist song and later in your career you did work for the S.O.P.H.I.E. foundation. How did you walk the fine line between seriousness and parody?
When we first started in late ‘86/early ‘87 parody wasn’t a thing in any shape or form. The only things were Spinal Tap and Bad News. We certainly didn’t set out to parody anything in any shape or form. When we get pulled into that I find it quite odd, for us it was more about inability, but we were probably as metal as punk and punk as metal so what you ended up with was what I truly define as punk/metal. We’ve always worked on the basis of don’t be a dick, so if the S.O.P.H.I.E. charity needs a bit of help…but they shouldn’t be a charity in the first place, because that situation should never have happened, but it did, and it takes very little effort from us to support something that really matters. We work on the basis of doing the right thing, but I think most people should.
After a lengthy hiatus the band reformed in 2008 and people welcomed you back with open arms. Were you surprised at the reaction?
It was a lovely surprise. We packed it in in ‘93 after the Billy tour and we thought it had run its course really. We went away with no intention of doing this again, I never thought we would, we went off and did what normal people do; grow up, get married and have kids, work, and all the good stuff that comes into your life. We were all very happy, but the offer came along to play London’s Alexandra Palace and that was too good to turn down. Those type of gigs never would have been offered to us back in the day and the chance to play the Ally Pally was far too good to miss out on. The intention was to play that show, have a final hurrah, say we’d played the Ally Pally then go back to bed really. It was never going to be any more that that, but it just snowballed and that led onto Download and Download led on to the next show and here we are years down the road, and it just keeps going. Back in the day we’d be playing the usual gig circuit and the occasional bigger gig would come along and we’d be supporting Death or Suicidal Tendencies but that was as good as it was getting and suddenly now, we’re headlining a stage at Bloodstock and playing the bigger stages at Download. That wasn’t there before so now we’re playing to younger people who we’d never expected to and the established fanbase is still there, the inquisitive come along, because why wouldn’t you when you’re at a festival? It just keeps growing and it is good fun because of that.
I imagine playing Bloodstock now is the equivalent of playing Monsters of Rock in 1990.
Yes, it’s not missed on us because where were we in 1990? We were at Donington (it’s always going to be Donington to us) and we were there sat at the front with the flags out, no mobile phones and I’ll meet you at the bridge. We were there as fans thinking ‘if only’, and then to actually play there, that’s ridiculous. We’ve never had management pushing us in that direction so when these things come along this time around you can just enjoy it.
Your latest album Blunt Cutters has been 29 years in the making. It sounds like an evolution of ‘92’s Return Of The Fabulous Metal Bozo Clowns record that bypassed the controversial Billy album. Fair comment?
I don’t think that’s unreasonable but the one person who was heavily involved in Bozo isn’t in the band at the moment. Kev [Papworth, former guitarist] had a big influence on that album, both the twin lead work and the song writing. Billy is a strange album because when it came out it didn’t sound like it did in the studio, it was a lot rawer in the studio, but whatever happened at the pressing stage gave it a lighter edge. It’s one of those albums that people seem to have matured into a little bit. Now when we play live the stuff off Billy is what people want to hear, bizarrely. In terms of continuation this is definitely a Lawnmower album, there’s no two ways about it, it still sounds like Lawnmower but if anything has changed it’s the song writing. The songs are structured now, something that’s probably taken us 30 years to learn, what we used to do was write a load of riffs and if we liked it, we put it in, and the next riff, and the next and there was never really any song structure, just a load of riffs and I’d blurter over the top. Now, writing with Steve [Nesfield, guitar] it turns out he can write hooks for fun and once you’ve got the hook you can structure the rest in, it’s still noisy and relatively extreme but hopefully there’s enough melody in there so it’s more song based, even though it’s a right good racket. I think that’s improved things tenfold. I don’t tend to listen to any of the old stuff, but I can listen to the new album quite easily. We’re really chuffed with it.
I understand Blunt Cutters was recorded remotely.
Yes, at the height of Covid. As the songs started to appear we didn’t have the intention of making an album, there was no record deal. The songs were appearing, and we were interested in what they were going to sound like. Steve started demoing the songs at home and a couple of hours in the car I could nip down and see him at the weekend, have a couple of beers and try out some vocals. That’s how it started by demoing in Steve’s back bedroom and they started sounding OK, but then we got locked down and that changed everything and we were demoing over three locations; I was recording vocals at home and Chris [Billam] was recording the drums in his garage and we pieced the songs together that way. Steve was doing all the hard work, but we’d got the songs as good as we could get but we weren’t, perhaps naively, thinking of releasing them as an album and we couldn’t be bothered with self-releasing so at one point we were thinking of sticking them on the internet and giving them away but then Dan Tobin [Dissonance/Cherry Red Records] came in. I’d known Dan for a long time through Earache, he’s had a great career and he’s a good bloke, he said, “send the stuff over, I want to hear it” and he came straight back with a deal. So, we had to record it all again and they brought producer Chris Clancy in. At that point it got shipped off for Chris to produce and for me that’s made all the difference. Bringing in someone who’s worked with Possessed and Machine Head has really made a difference so what you’ve got is this album that’s been glued together from all these different locations. It’s been pretty hard work and has taken two years all in.
I wonder what Chris Clancy made of Lawnmower Deth? Has he ever produced a crossover band like you?
I’m not sure he has. Obviously, he’s been around the genre and he’s a massive talent but I think we’re pretty easy to work with. We know what we want but there’s no great demand, in fact just the opposite, when we sent him the demo we said, “do your thing on it” rather than “this is what we want”. That’s what we needed as well so letting him have free reign and have fun with it has improved the album all the more. I think we’d done the hard work with the demos, so we just pushed it in his direction and I think he quite enjoyed it. I think he got where we were coming from.
I wonder if you had to explain your modus operandi to him. I can’t imagine that he’s produced many 30 second songs like ‘Swarfega’ before!
I doubt it! [laughs] A 30 second song is the same as an 8-minute song isn’t it? Only shorter. It’s still got the same components. But if it’s brought something to the table for him great but I expect we learnt a lot more from him than he learned from us.
It seems the whole lockdown experience had a big influence on this album. Tracks like ‘Raise Your Snails’ sound very angry.
I hope is does. I can only speak for me, but I don’t think it was deliberately angry or being locked down was making us angry. I think there was always going to be aggression to the music because of the style we play but I think because it’s become more structured and you add the production which makes it heavy anyway, that naturally makes it feel angrier, I think the vocals are angrier this time around but we’re managing to balance aggression and humour more evenly now.
There’s a timeless to Lawnmower Deth that makes them just as relevant in 2022 as they were in 1992. What’s the secret?
If I knew the answer to that I’d be like Peter Pan. I don’t know why. A band like Lawnmower shouldn’t have lasted more than two minutes, it shouldn’t have got out the bedroom, it shouldn’t have been anything other than a bunch of drunken idiots having a laugh. But what’s happened is nice people that stick around us let us carry on doing it. I think it’s that were just surrounded by nice people who tolerate us really.
I also think it’s also your lyrical bent. The opening track on Blunt Cutters references slipped discs and dislocated hips which is just what ageing metalheads should be singing about.
Of course, I’m getting older and every time we do a gig it hurts. Lyrically, ‘Into The Pit’ was probably one of the easiest ones to write because it’s coming from ground zero, it’s where you’re at.
Obviously, you’re excited to get the album released. How do you plan on promoting it?
We’re not going on tour or anything like that but I’m busy on socials and doing Zoom and phone interviews every night with people all over Europe and we’re grateful to anyone who wants to chat to us and give us support. We’re really thankful for that. Plus, there’s some shows coming up which will back the album up as well. There are a few festival dates booked and we’ll rebook the Christmas show which fell through. We’ve got ManorFest booked which is looking really great, but we won’t be touring; we don’t want to overextend our welcome but we’ll pop up now and again and make it a good event when we do.
Finally, what are your future plans. Can you envisage recording another album?
Yes, we’ve certainly got the taste now because we’re enjoying the experience so much. Working with Cherry Red has just been brilliant, a huge amount of fun, we’re really delighted how the album’s turned out, and there’s already 3 or 4 new songs starting to dot around so I could certainly see us heading in that direction. The band’s in a really good place at the moment. We don’t plan too much which makes it a pleasure and not a chore.