They say that the calmest point of a tornado is its eye. If that’s the case, then talking to Heck guitarist Jonny Hall is as close as we’ll ever get to understanding what it’s like to be at the core of something nearly as destructive – one of his band’s live performances. They’ve already passed into folklore among the UK underground scene.
“Every show, I get a moment where I suddenly come out of myself,” laughs Jonny. “I look at the fact that I’m stood on a PA stack or hanging off of a balcony and think, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ But it just allows us to let off steam in a positive way; it’s a completely natural release to us. You might ask why we do it, but I’d ask why more bands don’t do it.”
Since their formation in 2009, Heck have left a trail of floored jaws, ringing ears and broken venues in their wake. Shows typically start with each bandmember marching into the crowd before a note has even been played and setting up somewhere, anywhere, else in the building. Instruments are thrown, venues are scaled and explored, the bands’ songs crumble around the weight of the anarchic chaos going on around them, audience members cower in the corner of the room in fear of their own safety, things – be it equipment or body parts – get broken and busted beyond repair. To call it intense is to undersell what Heck do.
“I have to go on an extensive fitness regime before we tour or I just can’t do it,” Jonny tells us. “Some bands can drink and get fucked-up after a show, but we can’t because we want to be able to deliver this live performance every time we play. And it is mentally and physically exhausting. I come off tour and I’m broken. But it just gives me them chance to be a twat and get paid for it! Ha ha!”
Heck, some of you may remember, began life as Baby Godzilla, releasing three EPs between 2010 and 2013. Although enjoyably manic and aggressive, they didn’t do justice to seeing the band in the flesh, with the exception of the pirate stomp of Powerboat Disaster from 2012’s OCHE EP, and during that time the focus centred solely on those live shows. More and more people began to pick up on the hype, which swelled to the point where they were performing at Download Festival and opening for Limp Bizkit at Brixton Academy.
“That was mental, but we knew we weren’t meant to be there. So we made the most of it,” shrugs Jonny. “It was one of the best days ever. I mean, we got to play Brixton! And we didn’t compromise what we did at all. We just thought, ‘We’ll never be here again, let’s make the most of it’, and did the show we always did in this enormous, historic venue. It was like a weird holiday. We never believed that we could be this massive band that people kept telling us we were going to be. We had people from management companies telling us that if we wrote another five songs like Powerboat Disaster then they could turn us into the biggest band in Britain. They said they had seen what happened with Gallows and it could happen to us, too, but we never thought that was going to happen. When all the hype was going on, we looked at each other and told each other over and over, ‘These people won’t be here in a year’s time.’”
A defeatist attitude? Or realism from a band that knew the art they truly wanted to create would always alienate more mainstream music fans? The intervening years suggest their caution was correct. With the music biz buzz building for Baby Godzilla’s debut album, suddenly the band were thrown into a legal battle with Godzilla himself. “Godzilla is someone’s intellectual property and we had stolen it,” Jonny tells us. “There are three companies that are notoriously harsh on copyright infringements: Disney, Lucasfilm and Godzilla. So, there was no fighting it – we had to change the name.”
As tempting as it must have been for such a deliberately obtuse bunch to change their name to Goofy Skywalker, they settled on the name Heck and began to tour as before. But the fickle music industry had moved on. “We noticed it from the first show,” laughs Jonny. “There weren’t as many people there as we had got used to seeing. But it didn’t take long for the fanbase that really got us to come back. And those people that just wanted to see this ‘wacky’ band were gone. Which we’re delighted about, to be honest.”
One of the heaviest sticks used to beat Heck by the types that have moved on to the next flavour-of-the-week act is that it’s all well and good being a ‘keraaaazy!’ live band, but do they actually have any songs? Heck’s debut album Instructions answers that question like a brick to the face of the naysayers. It’s a record that continues the tradition of smacking the listener with raw, spite-filled, thrashing hardcore punk, but with newfound moments of calm and touches of teasing melodic nous, before it ends with the 16-minute-long masterpiece (i) See The Old Lady Decently (ii) Buried Although (iii) Amongst Those Left Are You.
“We didn’t really know what to do with that song,” says Jonny. “We nearly released it as an EP all on its own. But then we wanted everything that we had written to go on the album and to try and make it a journey. And I think this album flows as one piece. That was always the point. You listen to an album like The Shape Of Punk To Come by Refused – yeah New Noise is now considered this all-time great rock song, but it’s just another component to the album in full. And there is no way a song like that should be in the charts anyway! It’s too odd, too weird. And so are we. It might happen to one band every 20 years, but the type of music we play, and the way we play it, is not made for huge rooms and loads of people. We know it, our fans know it, and we’ll have a much longer and fulfilling career if we stick to doing things the way we do them.” An attitude that, if you’ve seen those live shows, won’t shock you at all.
INSTRUCTION IS OUT NOW VIA NPAG INDUSTRIES