Taking their name from a Jack Kerouac novel and coming to prominence in what was dubiously called the Queercore scene in Manchester alongside Valerie and Stephen Nancy, its safe to say that the Desolation Angels are not you're archetypal Manchester band. Moving away from the pop hooks of those early releases their debut album "Asylum" is a stark and moving journey creating a mood not dissimilar to that of Joy Division. Designer Magazine caught up with the band to find why it took 5 long years to realize the Desolation Angels sound.
Q: Desolation Angels seem to have been playing around Manchester for years. Why did it take so long for the debut album?
A: Desolation Angels has been going for about five years but in that time we have had quite a lot of line up changes. The present form of the band has been going for about a year & a half. I think it takes a band that long from first forming to find it's own sound and the right group of people.
Q: Obviously the name is taken from the Kerouac. For readers who haven't read the book itself why does this name fit the bands sound so well?
A: The name seemed right for a lot of reason. We liked the idea of the beat generation and their principles of collective learning, artists feeding off each other, striving for new horizons, chasing the American dream of freedom, realizing but refusing to believe it doesn't exist and in doing so finding another sort of freedom. Also they symbolize the idea that art whilst being both a reflection and reaction to society can also have an influence upon it.
The name itself also conjures up lots of imagery which seems to fit with the music, those of desolate beauty. It also suggests a group quite simply in the fact that it is “angels” and the combination of two such starkly opposed words fit with a lot of the themes within the songs which although dark strive always to have an element of hope, to contain a possibility of something else.
Q: When you first started playing Manchester you were playing with the likes of Stephen Nancy, Hooker, Valerie et all and were lumped in with what was then termed "queer-core". You've shaken the tag off now, but what did you think of it that time and do you consider yourself a queer or gay specific band?
A: When we first started we tried to play with as many of the best Manchester bands as possible. Sexuality was not an issue, it just so happened a few of them had gay members. We did put on a night with Stephen Nancy called Smash 28 as part of the campaign to get clause 28 repealed, which has finally happened, I suppose that helped put us in a certain category. Musically, all of the bands were so diverse it was never going to last very long as a concept.
For the bands involved such a tag is quite regressive as it suggests you are all the same and music is secondary to your sexuality but at the same time, unfortunately, sexuality, race, religion & gender are all still unsettled battlefields so to speak, so it is natural that spills into the band world. I don't think it's a negative thing if movements exist or if bands are labelled if they are publicized progressively. We do have gay member and even if we didn't would be happy to play events specifically designed to promote diversity in the same way we have played anti racist events even though all of us are white. So I think the answer is no we don't consider ourselves a queer or gay specific band but if people want to use the tag or us for a good cause they can.
Q: From reading early reviews of you as "glam rockers" to what we hear now on the debut album, the sound has changed considerably. It's a lot starker and more mature. Did you strive consciously to do this?
A: No, we will always strive to improve and the album is a natural progression from our earlier stuff influenced greatly by the different band make-up we have now. I think the glitter we were drenched in at the time had more to do with the glam rock tag than the actual music. The earlier recordings were a lot less complex and had a more straight rock edge to some tracks but were still a long way away from Slade.
Q: What was it about Blue Cat Records that clinched it for you with putting out the record?
A: It was quite an easy decision in that we got on well with the people involved and decided it was the right time to record an album. We knew we'd have more control with a smaller label which is especially important for a first album. A band's creativity can often get crushed by company pressures and demands and we wanted full control over any timescale, artwork, where we recorded etc..
Q: Gavin Monaghan co-produced the album with you. He's worked with the Smiths and Idlewild before. What did he add to the Desolation Angels sound?
A: Gavin is an expert at warm natural sounding recordings especially in relation to vocals. Having worked with him before we were all relaxed which is a major factor in the recording process as we never felt rushed. When you are with someone for 12 hours a day for a month it is important that you can put your feet on the table.
Q: There's a whole world of difference between putting out an EP or Single than an album. There's so much importance played on the full length that lyrics are worked and reworked time again. What were you trying to get across lyrically with the album?
A: Lyrically the album is extremely dark with reoccurring themes linked together by a sense of wanting to escape. It is in no way a concept album as all the songs deal with very different themes, some merely related images. It just so happens that if you are in a dark place you either look inwards or outwards and this album attempts to look outwards. We're not going to speak about specific lines or songs as the intention is that people discover their own meaning or in the more obvious lines can relate to the narrators experience.
Q: Do you feel part of the "Manchester scene" and are there bands you feel an affinity with? What other bands do you feel are part of Desolation Angels landscape?
A: No we don't feel part of the Manchester scene although we respect & have played with a lot of bands within it. There are probably three main scenes, the more high profile acoustic stuff. rock & roll punky outfits and alt american influenced acts. We don't fit with any of those and tend to have our own specific fan-base. Bands that are a part of our landscape are The Sonar Yen, Tsuji Girl, Hooker, The Ghosts, Transelement & probably lots of others I've forgotten to mention.
Q: What are your plans for the rest of 2004
A UK tour in the autumn to promote the second single and lots of rehearsing to work up new songs.
"Asylum" is out now on Blue Cat Records
For more info and gig dates
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