Music Vice recently spoke to Brett Hansen, keyboardist of Australian “circus-metallers” Headkase, to see how things have been progressing since the release a while back of their debut album, The Worm County Circus. Their sound is reminiscent of the skitzo-metal masters System of a Down but with plenty of freaky circus inspiration on top.
So, it’s been a little while now since you guys released your debut album, The Worm County Circus. Have you been pleased with the responses the album has provoked so far, and what have the band been up to since?
We’ve been absolutely pleased with the response. The album has received great reviews from magazines as far away as the USA, the UK and Denmark. And all who have contacted us after purchasing the album have given us some terrific positive feedback. Since the album was released a few months into 2009, we played a few shows (including the album launch), then spent most of the off time promoting the CD while our busy drummer Todd Hansen (who is in several other bands too) was away touring Europe and the USA with The Berzerker, and around Australia with Wish For Wings. Of course, he had Headkase CDs on the road with him, and helped with our promotion along the way. In recent months, we have been writing some new material.
Good to hear you’re working on new stuff. Is there any sort of “new direction” listeners can expect, in comparison to the material from the first album?
There’s a more eerie tone to the new material we’ve started writing. That’s largely due to the amazing sounds on the new Korg synth we’re using, as opposed to the Roland keyboard used on the album. However, I wouldn’t say the direction is changing too much at this stage. We still want to continue with the quirky, carnival style that got fans interested in the first place. Our music has always been a combination of the silly circus vibe, and the more intense, spooky tones. I guess it always has been and always will be a mixed bag. Some might say we have no direction, or any one particular “sound” that defines Headkase. But we don’t see that as a bad thing. Every song sounds different, so we hope that this keeps people interested throughout the whole set.
What’s it like being the keyboardist in a “metal” band (and I do use the word “metal” loosely!)? Are many songs/riffs written from your keyboard doodlings, or is the songwriting process a more fully collaborative one?
When the band first started performing, a lot of people were opposed to the idea of keyboards in what’s traditionally a heavy and brutal genre. But we weren’t trying to be the next heaviest thing out there. And we’re not exactly the first band to do it either. Metal bands like Fear Factory and Strapping Young Lad always had a strong keyboard/synth element to their music. And then we sort of follow in the tradition of acts like Mr. Bungle and Dog Fashion Disco, where rather than just a wall of synth strings behind heavy guitar work, the keyboard brings elements of jazz, swing and circus music to it, and is often the lead instrument in some or all of certain songs. A lot of our songs are based around keyboard riffs, and often I’m not the only one writing them. Tristan (rhythm guitarist) and Todd (drummer) have written several parts for keyboard too.
But there are many songs based around a drum beat, a guitar riff or even lyrics too. Everyone in the band has pretty equal input when it comes to song writing, not only for their own instruments, but for each other’s too. My greatest fascination with playing keyboards in a metal band has been to bring those non-metal elements and genres into the music. Reactions have varied from amazement (that a song can combine death metal blast beats with kooky jazz and happy circus music) to annoyance and anger (that we would dare poke fun at this dark and serious genre). There have even been metal fans who, after hearing us, would go check out some other styles of music, and people who don’t normally listen to metal enjoying what we do. So I guess in a way we’re opening minds, breaking down barriers, bringing all music fans together, while also making a lot of people angry and confused in the process.
I have indeed heard that certain factions of the “metal community” have taken exception to your subversions of the genre. What would you say to those people who would accuse your music of being “false metal”, or words to similar effect?
They simply don’t have to listen to it. Everybody has a right to listen to what they want to, and by the same token, every artist should feel free to write and create the way they choose to. We write what we think sounds good, without feeling like we need to follow any “rules of rock” or other standard guidelines. Anybody else who thinks it sounds good are welcome to listen and join us for the ride. We never claimed to be better or heavier than any other bands, and we don’t expect everybody to like what they hear. The fact that we do have fans at all is nice, and we appreciate all of their support. We try to focus on all the positive feedback we receive in reviews and in person, and ignore the hateful remarks usually found on metal (and general music) internet forums.
You certainly DON’T tend to follow too many standard “rules of rock” in your songwriting. Would you say that the process of writing songs in such a musically “schizophrenic” style, with constant changes of tempo, time signatures, genre and so forth, is more challenging and/or time-consuming than more “generic” songwriting?
It’s definitely more time-consuming. But writing songs like this actually feels easier than writing simpler, “normal” sounding songs. But I guess the real challenge is making the next song even crazier and more complex than the last.
Can we perhaps expect any Headkase “epics” in the future, a longer song structure presumably allowing for even MORE genre-hopping and what-have-you?
Well most of our current songs are pretty long, so I’d like to think we could come up with an “epic” or two. I’ve personally always wanted to do strictly a recording project, where we have the freedom to play with several layers of sound that we couldn’t possibly recreate live without a large string section, brass section and choir. In the studio, a violinist or a trumpet player could easily record several layers of themselves to create the “audio illusion” (if you will) of a much larger ensemble. One singer could become 100 if we wanted them to. Perhaps after such a recording is made, oppurtunities will arise (as well as the funds) to actually recreate the recordings live in much larger venues with all the people needed (orchestra, chior, etc).
We’ve always been a very theatrical band with big ideas. But without the necessary funds, and stage space, we’re limited to writing music that can only be played live by the people and instruments that we alone can pick up at any one time. Most stages can just barely fit all six of us plus our equipment. If we could fit more gear and more people, plus props and sets, I think we could really take this freakshow to an epic new level! And that is a dream I’d like to work towards.
Sounds most excellent! Your sound most certainly lends itself to strings, brass, etc. Well, with that mouth-watering (and thoroughly head-fucking) concept in mind, any last comments you’d like to say in conclusion to all the nice people out there in cyberspace..?
Headkase will be performing a couple of new songs (as well as some old favourites) in South Australia, NSW, Victoria and QLD throughout May and June. Of course, T-shirts and copies of The Worm County Circus album will be available at all shows.
Okay, one last question, since this interview is for MusicVice.com, it’s time for the obligatory: Aside from music, are there any other personal vices you wish to share with us?
Infrequent and unreliable public transport.
© Michael Bowser, Music Vice
Check out Headkase’s Myspace to hear their crazy toons, and if you’re in Australia, don’t forget to check ‘em out live on their upcoming tour (details on their Myspace page).