Leeds shredders talk budget zombie videos, big tours and surviving one hell of a car crash
‘Chickenhawk’ is a word with a multitude of meanings, from American political insult to gay slander for men with a predilection for young men, yikes! Sat outside on the freezing cold steps of Leeds Art gallery, backed by the noise of night time traffic, the band try and make sense of it all.
Surrounded by groups of chavs harassing a dog, it’s not the ideal interview venue, the band passing their one jumper round between them for warmth. Starting things off Rob explains: “There’s a running joke that I only listen to bands beginning with D. Like Dillinger Escape Plan, Danny Elfman (of Simpsons theme song fame), Dream Theatre.” The others laugh in the background as he struggles to keep a straight face. “You thought I was lying didn’t you?!”
Chickenhawk have been together as a four piece for two years. Drummer Matt Reid joined after his former band Whores Whores Whores split. The bands name came from graffiti found in the basement of their old practice room. Singer/guitarist Paul Astick, bass player Ryan Clark and guitarist Robert Stephens formed the band in 2004 following a jamming session; Matt replaced Paul on the drums.
The Leeds scene they inhabit is currently coming alive, with local bands like Pulled Apart By Horses, Dinosaur Pile Up and Castrovalva reaching varying degrees of success. A recent appearance on Mike Davies’ Punk Show has raised their profile, but Chickenhawk are keen to not let it go to their heads.
Paul explains: “I don’t think you get played at the BBC and then you go and play a stadium. We’re gearing up for a lot of hard work. I think that you don’t want to be in a situation where your playing to the mainstream media and somehow it’s completely wrong.”
Last year’s EP, ‘A or Not’, featuring the epic jarring riffs of ‘I Hate This, Do You Like It?’, garnered rave reviews, with Steve Lamacq describing it as containing “the Beechers brook of guitar solos.”
Ryan comments: “Luckily I manage to pull it off every time, so it’s a good job!”
“Yeah, he’s a riff jockey,” laughs Paul. “Riff jockey meets fret jockey!”
Recently the band took the huge step of jacking in their day jobs to commit to the band full time. The catalyst happened several years ago when the band were involved in a car crash. Their trailer was hit by an oncoming lorry, tipping the car over. Luckily everyone escaped without serious injury, but it came pretty close.
“My shoulder went through the window, cutting it all,” explains Matt. “I’ve got a dirty great scar now, it looks like Zorro!”
“It makes you look like a robot!” says Ryan.
Matt: “We were on our way back to Leeds. Not the last day of the tour, but the last day of us having to be in that godforsaken fucking people carrier.”
Ryan concludes: “It was a life-affirming thing basically. It made us sit up and ask why we were doing it.”
Their videos are like mini feature films that see them battle zombies in ‘I Hate This…’ and journey to outer space in ‘NASA VS ESA’. All shot on a meagre budgets using local extras and gangs of friends, with help from friend and NME/Spin photographer Danny North. We’re keen to see what they have in store next.
“3D!” says Matt. “We’ll do it 3D.”
“I though we were going to do 1D?” questions Ryan.
Matt: “Yeah, with just a line down the screen. I had an idea the other day…”
As we enter a discussion about the merits of the various dimensions, I mention primitive computer game Pong.
“That’s a good idea actually,” agrees Matt. “Yeah, we’ll have that.”
Ryan: “With our faces instead of the pong bats!”
Rob (trying to explain to perplexed looking Paul): “It’s like that first tennis game… There was no planning in the zombies one,” he adds. “We just turned up and shit happened.”
While recording is still in the early stages, Paul says, “The new album is coming, it’s just not coming yet.”
The band are about to embark on a mammoth touring schedule too, including a BBC introducing showcase at King Tuts and The Garage with Trash Talk and Cancer Bats.
“I’m looking forward to Offset,” says Ryan. “We went last year and helped Kong out, and it was a really nice, niche little festival. Camden Crawl, Great Escape, it’s all going to be new experiences. We’ve never really been on the circuit like this before. We just can’t wait to get out there and play really.”
Later they play a ‘face-off’ gig, sharing the stage with fellow Leeds band Kong. All bias aside, in this particular battle between fowl and primate Chickenhawk emerge triumphant. Debuting new songs like the old-school Metallica riffage of ‘Scorpieau’, and alongside the scatter gunfire of ‘Bottle Rocket’, they leave the audience a sweaty, bloody mess. Sacking off the day jobs already seems like the right idea.
By Kate Parkin
Originally published in issue 16 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. April 2010