Famous Firsts: Hexvessel

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Mat McNerney – otherwise known as Kvohst – has been in his fair share of bands over the years, from avant-garde UK metal outfit Code, to Finnish apocalyptic post-punks Beastmilk, and the most recent incarnation of that group, namely Grave Pleasures. That’s not to mention his stints with Norwegian black metallers Dødheimsgard, Decrepit Spectre and Gangrenator.

Outside of the numerous goth and black metal bands he’s sang in throughout his career, Kvosht has also fronted his own psychedelic folk project Hexvessel since 2011, and they’re gearing up to release their third record When We Are Dead at the end of this month. Seems like the perfect time, then, to find out more about his wide-ranging musical influences…

What was the first single you ever bought?
“I remember it vividly. My mum was out shopping and I had some pocket money, so I went to Woolworth’s and bought Beastie Boys’ She’s On It. I came back and put it on and it was all about chicks and Spanish Fly, and that was a big problem for my parents. To them, Beastie Boys were like the worst thing that I could listen to and the song was confiscated from me for a while before I was allowed to listen to it again. I think I was about ten years old at the time. Later on I went completely nuts for the Fight For Your Right video, and then some kids from school got together and did a Beastie Boys band and they did some stuff in front of the school. That was kind of the first and last time anything like that was ever allowed ha ha! I don’t know how they persuaded the teachers to let them do it in the first place, but they did and everyone went completely nuts. Hip-hop was just starting to get really big with white kids then Beastie Boys came along and everyone went mad for them. They had the guitars in there as well, which gave their sound a bit of a punk attitude, and they were really my first step of getting into rebellious music. They were a really big deal for me: it was the music and the attitude at the same time, and they got me started on a whole obsession with music.”

What was the first album you ever bought?
“The first album I bought wasn’t anything as rebellious as the Beastie Boys: it was Paul Simon’s Graceland. It’s still probably my favourite album of all time, though. I think it’s the crossover in styles and the fact that he was doing something so completely off the wall at that time, but still so totally pop. It blew everyone away in the fact that he was doing this African music and crossing it over with pop. Of course it was really rebellious in the sense that there was the whole Apartheid thing going on and there was a big controversy about him doing it, but for me as a kid that didn’t really settle in. I was just blown away by all this stuff being mixed together. I was getting into so many different forms of music at the time, and it was amazing for me to listen to a record that had all these different things within it.

“My parents brought me up with Simon & Garfunkel and that was something I probably knew as lullaby music, so to hear him do the things he was doing on Graceland was really intriguing for me. In the same way that Beastie Boys crossed punk rock with hip-hop, here was this white guy getting into all this African music and I thought that was so fresh. It’s an album that I always go back to as well, and it still sounds so original to this day. He’s since apologised for going in there during Apartheid and making the album, and there was a whole documentary where he speaks to the black leaders and they kind of make up. But I think it did kind of help bring a lot of awareness to the situation, and make people think about it whether they liked what he was doing or not. Looking back in retrospect now that it’s all over, I think it was a good way of getting people to think about it. Plus, music shouldn’t really have any boundaries so I understood his point of view in that sense, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it myself. It’s a really beautiful record in the way that it captures the tension of what was going on around that time as well, and the best thing to do in those situations is be able to dance and listen to music and escape. Chevy Chase was such a big deal for me as a kid too, so having him in the Call Me Al video was really cool.”

What was the first gig you ever went to?
“My first gig was Slayer at the Hammersmith Apollo in 1990. I got dropped off by my parents and I remember being scared out of my brains. It was kind of the thing in those days that kids weren’t really allowed into those shows, but we bought tickets and went along in the hope that the bouncer wouldn’t look down and spot us. We managed to get in and we were the only kids in there: everyone else was adult guys with long hair. It was a seated show but everyone was standing up in their rows holding onto the seats in front of them and head banging along to the music. We were just looking around in amazement at everyone else, and for us it was the coolest thing ever. It was a very different vibe to a Slayer concert these days, and it was very extreme to me at that age. I felt really alive and totally on fire, like I was at this place that I wasn’t supposed to be listening to music that my parents wouldn’t even want to think about. It’s lived with me to this day, and I’ll probably never get back that feeling that I had at that gig. It was the best feeling you could ever get and it’s something that I’m always striving to get back, even though I know that I never quite will. Slayer were at their total peak at the time, too. It was their Decade Of Aggression tour if I remember correctly, and when you listen to that live album now I think it’s the greatest thing they ever did. I think after that they were never really as good, so it was a good time to see them, and it was just a great time for metal in general.”

What was the first gig you ever played?
“My first band was called Vomitorium and it was a death metal band, and we played our first gig in Walthamstow. We supported a band called Dark Heresy, I believe, and they were like real legends to us. We had a sort of little disco place underneath our school and they came and played there, and the local scene bands were just as big as Slayer to us – maybe even more so because they were local and that inspired us so much. There was only one guy at the show, though. There was the guy who put the gig on, the barman, and this one guy. I probably shouldn’t say his name but he was a crazy guy that used to turn up to all the shows back then, and we still talk about him to this day. He was there headbanging on his own down the front, and I just remember everything that could go wrong went wrong. I remember the whole adventure of travelling across London to Walthamstow being really epic, but we played awfully ha ha! We realised we couldn’t play, that we didn’t have any songs, and that nobody knew who we were. It was a great realisation though, of how when you see a band playing live what you don’t see is all the hard work that goes into it. You’re just seeing them having fun on stage and so it looks very easy, but the reality is it’s a lot of work and we realised after that gig that we had a lot to learn.”

What do you remember about your first ever tour?
“It was with a band called Code and we supported a band called Secrets Of The Moon and Souls To Fear, who are now a lot bigger bands. Had we kept with it with Code we might have also got there too, but we went around and shared a night liner with those two bands for a while and it was fantastic. I had the time of my life, but not everyone in the band did and that was a great telling sign that we weren’t going to continue. Your first tour is pretty much when you realise whether you’re going to be able to cope with being in a band or not, and if it’s going to be the life for you or not, and after just three weeks it felt like we’d been on the road forever. When we got to the airport I rushed my goodbyes to everyone because I was so desperate to jump on a plane and get home and see my girlfriend. So it felt very long and very hard at the time. Of course, these days, three weeks on the road isn’t anything at all. But that first tour was another great lesson in how hard bands have to work in order to succeed. As far as crazy stories went, we didn’t really get up to much. The other guys were a bit more tour savvy so they had girls on the bus and a lot of naked drunk nights, but we were so fresh and new to it all we were just watching it all unfold with amazement. I remember the drummer from Souls To Fear falling asleep at the table on the tour bus and us not being able to get him up, and I remember the toilet flooded and went up the wall and infected our beds, and the bus just smelt of piss for the rest of the trip. So it was interesting to say the least!”

Hexvessel’s new album When We Are Death is out January 29, via Century Media.