During the current pandemic, I have had plenty of time to reignite my passion with music... I have been lucky enough to find some very talented musicians and bands. One such band is HowManyDevils and after contacting them, they were kind enough to answer a few of our questions!
Firstly, would you like to introduce yourselves?
Simon (aka MonkeyFondue): Singer and guitarist. Yorkshire born and bred. Grew up on the North side of Sheffield. Currently hopped over the border into Hoyland, Barnsley.
Pete: Bass player. Born in Southampton and lived in Sheffield, then some other places, and Chesterfield where I am now.
Rob: Guitar and backing vocals. I live in Sheffield, but I'm from elsewhere.
How did HowManyDevils come about?
Simon: For me, it was when I met Rob at college. We were both studying electrical engineering and ended up in the same classes. We started hanging out in and out of college and it was only a matter time before I got sucked into the world of making music. I remember we went to Meadowhall one weekend and I bought an Encore telecaster in sunburst from Fox's Music. It weighed an absolute ton! But it got me into playing and really listening to music. Not a long time after that we started working on stuff together. (I think when Pete had taken a break from bass to pursue other opportunities?) Looking back the line up has always been malleable since the start, but there has always been at least two of us present at any one time. (at least since I came onto the scene).
Pete: I met Rob in Sheffield about 1987ish, and had been playing bass a few months by then. I was 19. Rob gave me tuition and encouragement and got me into songwriting and helped me with understanding studio stuff and recording processes which he still does to this day!! I had been in bands with Rob rehearsing at an old washhouse near to where we lived in the industrial area of Sheffield at that time, and through Rob I met Simon.
Rob: Me and Pete had been doing music together since we were teenagers and lived on the same street. We’d had several other people in bands of some sort, but none really gelled. I met Simon at college a couple of years later. When the incarnation of me and Pete’s band that was going at the time ended I brought him along for the next try, he fitted. Pete did disappear for a bit as he got a job out of town, but when he came back we all got back together and that's the real start of HowManyDevils.
It is an interesting name for a band, is there a story behind it?
Simon: lol. The name, well, it does have a story! I wouldn't have never considered having to recite it back in the day we came up with it. It's not even that interesting, just random! My PIN for my bank card used to be 6661 and I used to to say to myself "How many devil's?" to remember it. I must have suggested it or Rob heard me say it one day and we settled on that. We had another namebefore that was less 'cool'. (is HowManyDevils cool?).
Yes, it is a very cool name... For those who haven't heard your music, how would you describe it? Who have been your influences?
Pete: We've had people say about our tracks, oh that one sounds like Radiohead or that one sounds like The Cure blah,blah,blah but to me we sound like what we are which is three people all with differing musical tastes that blend together. My personal influences are Ozric Tentacles, Scott Walker, and to be honest I'll listen to almost anything. Peter Hammill has been a big influence on me in more recent years since I discovered his amazing songwriting both as a solo artist and with Van Der Graf Generator. As for bass players who've influenced me the most; there are obviously many but the most influence from my early days is Roly Wynne from the Ozrics. The 2 songs that made me want to play bass were Sugar the Road by Ten Years After and Ride My Seesaw by Moody blues. Artists I'm currently into are Porcupine Tree, Steve Wilson and Gary Numan's stuff since the year 2000. Pure by Numan is a very influential album for me!
Simon: Is there anyone out there who hasn't heard our music? I find that hard to believe. Lol. I thinkit's always difficult to describe your own music. The whole idea of classifying your own art is a tricky one. Mainly because anything you are involved with will give you a different impression of itto those who weren't involved in the inception of it. You'll hear things others don't, and visa versa. But if I HAVE to boil our sound down to something marketable I'd say recently we've become Prog/ Rock / Alternative with a splash of funk and a dash of western. Having influences from Japan and a slight concept of telling a story in the lyrics, sometimes. Looking back I feel we were more punk and less funk at the start. Even with a bit of indie added for good measure.Certainly my influences early on were Bleach - Nirvana, The Bends - Radiohead, 70s bands like Led Zeppelin + Cream and the classic metal of Iron Maiden and Buzzcocks. There was certainly an element of Riot Grrl (Hole, Babes In Toyland, L7) as well. There seems to be so many powerful female leads around at that time literally screaming to be heard. Later on I feel I've absorbed so many things that it's hard to nail down a specific influence. Having said that, Sonic Youth are a big part of what makes me move. The power of letting go of verse, chorus, verse type things and use sound as a sound scape to paint an picture I'd audio. And I suppose Smashing Pumpkins (or Billy Corgan) for producing again such powerful walls of sound painting pictures with words and screaming guitar tones.
Rob: We’ve been going about 25 years, plenty of time for influences to change. In the early days I was listening to Nirvana, Radiohead, and PJ Harvey but we never tried to sound like anyone. Except I kept trying to slip in a Nine Inch Nails influence despite us not using any technology back in those days. For Flesh Reunion: overall I was pushing in a sort of Raw Power/Tin Machine direction, but I knowI got Sabbath vibes here and Van Halen vibes there and went along with them. With Space Cowboys Under The Sea Of Japan we decided we didn’t want to be constrained to playing songs live, so I started trying to make weird noises with the guitar rather than play it properly (that might be a little Sonic Youth, but I always think of Nick Cave saying Blixa Bargeld was happy if he got to make his guitar sound like a horse on a song). A little bit of Joy Division gotinto what I was doing too, but my big influences were Dethklok and Spinal Tap. Let’s sing about fish now, or lets have three basses on this. On D4 I had wasn’t being consciously influenced by anyone. I’ve been told we ended up sounding like Deftones, I can here a little Pearl Jam coming in on Pete's bass.
What is your process for creating a new song or album?
Simon: Wow! Big question! At the start I feel we wrote (Rob and I) separately and would often come to rehearsals with the idea for a song start to end. Sometimes we'd write as a band, maybe starting with bass or words. But mainly I feel the bones of the songs were already written outside the room. More recently we've done things differently making a conscious effort to write as a band together in the same room. That's given other in the band more involvement I feel. And that's opened up a bigger variety of ideas, concepts and styles. We've experimented with different ways ofconstructing songs as well. From having a strict 'Can we play this live' idea to the 'we'll just keep adding layers upon layers upon layers until we feel it's done'. Each had they're own pros and cons
Rob: Again that has changed a lot. In the 90s we tended to write full songs on our own then teach the rest of the band, who might come up with other bits. We played as a live band a lot then, so songs that needed studio additions didn’t tend to survive. The first album is basically our setlist from that year. Flesh Reunion was us getting back together 15 years later. We decided not to touch any old material and do everything new. We brought our riffs in, but not complete songs, and then built the songs as a band. So we wrote 13 new songs in 13 sessions, then recorded them in another 13. I made one rule for the album (that we broke) which was we must be able to play the songs live as the four piece line-up we used to be. Then we spent a year trying to make the drums sound good because I insisted on using real drums even though we didn’t have a drummer at the time. (It's me and Simon). Space Cowboys Under The Sea Of Japan was a reaction to that. Full studio trickery. We all play several different instruments, we over dub. Some of the percussion is just me grabbing leads and making buzzing noises. There’s a dozen layers of vocal harmony in a couple of places. Nothing was rehearsed, we just had an idea and recorded it. I don’t think I even know how to play most of those songs today. When it came to D4 I wanted to do a synth pop album, to try and be different again. We wrote HowTo Breathe on 3 synths, but no-one else wanted to carry on like that so we re-tuned our guitars and played it on them instead. Pete commented that because we’d retuned the guitars to drop-D everything we were writing was in the key of D. So I wrote Lover Best Forgotten’s riff to only be D notes. And we called the album D4.
Pete: One of us will come up with a melody and the others bounce off it bringing in there ideas and well play around with it for a while and see where it goes .Some ideas start from a lyric idea or a drum pattern one of us has come up with. The process can't be nailed down to one formula as I think if we did that we'd be like other bands stuck in a rut with all the songs sounding similar or the same. It doesn't really matter who does what musically or lyrically as long as the end result is pleasing
Have you had the opportunity to perform much live? If so, which has been your favourite performance and why?
Rob: Yes, but not as much as we should have. I couldn’t really choose a favourite gig, I always hate the week coming up to a gig and then love the buzz the week after.
Pete: I think we did a few gigs in the latter end of the 20th century and into the early 21st century. The gig I enjoyed the most was the most recent at West St. Live in Sheffield as we hadn't played a gig for many years and I thought we were a really tight unit that night, it was probably our best everperformance.
Simon: We've played live a few times in the bands life. Looking back, the early gigs feel like the most fun. Maybe because we were younger and it was a whole new experience. Our first proper gig was at the opening night of the Tut 'n' Shive in Rotherham. I believe its the only one we've earned money at as well. I remember finishing the set feeling great! I picked up my pint of Guinness and proceeded to trip over my glow in the dark mic cable and fall off the stage BUT I didn't spill my drink! Skillz!My favourite gig we played was supporting a Japanese cyber-punk due called Psydoll. The night was put on by our friend Derek who had seen us play West Street Live (another great set played to all of 20 people including the other bands on that night) and wanted to book us. It was a weird feeling as we had lost Pete at this point and so Rob had become Mr Bass, leaving us one guitar sound down but I really enjoyed it and the crowed seemed to enjoy what we had to play, particularly Freaks R Us.
Are there any messages behind your songs?
Rob: I don’t do the lyrics as much as I used to. In the early days my contributions were largely about me being in my late teens or early twenties.
Pete: Most songs we do have a message and a reason to be written. I don't think any of us write random trivia, but the listener may interpret the song in their own way differing from the meaning of the writer.
Is this your full time career? If not, what else do you do?
Simon: In the day I'm a pensions admin worker, which is just as exciting as it sounds. Lol. I'm not sure I'd enjoy doing music full time as a job. I'd worry that the weight of expectation of producing a product would quash the thrill of producing a piece of art. But I would like a couple of Porsche so, you know, swings and roundabouts.
Pete: Not a full time career unfortunately. I'm in the medical/health line of work which means I'm overworked and poverty stricken but yes it would be great to be successful and making loads of money and have my house by a lake in Sweden with classic Saabs on the drive and a recording studio in the back garden overlooking the other side of the lake!! Artistic integrity is important to us as like the solo track of mine We Are Known By The Tracks WeLeave Behind.... Now theres a plug if i ever saw one!!
Rob: No, which is a good thing this year. I’m a software developer, which is also a good thing this year. I think if music was my full time career, unless this band could be a full time career and still work how it does, I'd be worried that it would become WORK. I don't want to be playing guitar 9 to 5 and dreaming of writing code.
Tell us an interesting fact about each of you.
Simon: An interesting fact eh? Crikey! Well, erm, what's interesting to one person might be boring to another. I like to spend time refinishing cheaper old guitars. I don't think I own a guitar I haven't modified in some way. And a couple of pedals. I'm also a bit of a home mechanic. I have a 'modern classic' MG TF sports car I'm always improving bit by bit and I'm often found at the hill climb course at Harewood House in Leeds. Well, expect this year when Covid has stopped spectators being able to attend.
Pete: I collect Saabs and am an expert on European camper-van travel.It would be egotistic to list all the countries in the world I've been too.!!
Rob: Ok, this is a problem. I'm normally not talking about the music, so doing the music is my interesting thing.
Covid-19 has had a major impact on the music industry... How has it affected you?
Simon: Speaking of the C word, we had a gig booked earlier this year, again through our friend Derek and supporting Psydoll, that was cancelled due to the outbreak. At the time it seemed maybe like the trigger was being pulled to early, but we all ended up in lockdown before the date the gig was penciled in for, so in hindsight it was a good call in the end. The impact of Covid is easy to see across the local music scene. A few bands I follow haven't been able to meet up and carry on in the same way since March. I can see the effects being felt for years to come.
Rob: The band was kind of on hiatus at the end of last year. A couple of us had kids and things outside family were going a lot slower than before. We did have that gig booked and we were going to attempt as a duo, effectively doing covers of the band stuff, but as Simon said it got cancelled at the start of the first lockdown. The lockdown got us talking again though. Doing things without having to spend the time going places saves a bit of time, so we are looking at trying to use that time to do something new. Not sure if it is as the same band or not though.
Pete: I hoped I would get furloughed to spend more time writing in the studio at home but it was notto be due to the nature of my job which dictates I'm a key-worker. So I've ended up spending more time at work through this pandemic than I would normally do, I suppose the extra income could by another Saab!!
What is the advice you would give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Simon: My words of advice would be to do what makes you happy and enjoy yourself along the way. Play what you want and don't try to fit into a mould. As soon as you aim for a 'type' you're going to loose what makes you unique. And, for me, the process of creating and producing a piece of music is a very personal thing, both with my solo stuff AND as part of HMD.
Pete: Follow what you want to do and write. Experiment with various genres and don't set out to sound like someone else or you will become just someone else and thats been done a million times and will be done a million times more.
Rob: Practice, a lot, and not just your current setlist. Do theory and scales, try to be better then you need to be. Try to get gigging and recording as soon as you can. Don’t wait to be perfect, good enough is good enough. Make friends while you’re at it, they’re the people that will help you along. I wish someone had told me those.
Are you working on anything at the moment and What are the plans for the future?
Rob: We touched on that already. We’re trying to get some new stuff together remotely, and we’ll see where that leads us.
Pete: We have to work apart sending ideas and parts to each other, and although a slow process at least were still making music..We also each have our solo projects to work on.
Simon: Like they say, we're working on a few ideas remotely. Sending ideas to each other online for the others to add parts to. Personally the fact we aren't in the same place bouncing creativity off each other is what I miss from the process and the delay caused by remote working can be frustrating BUT its proves that we're a strong band that we choose to put up with these negatives.
Finally, Where can people find you?
HowManyDevils with no spaces normally gets us in searches. We’re on Spotify, Apple Music, and so on. We’ve just put everything on https://howmanydevils.bandcamp.comThere is a Facebook page, and Instagram, but Twitter @HowManyDevils is the most lively. We do have howmanydevils.com, but today that’s just pointing at Bandcamp
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