In The Middle with Hawkwind


I recently spoke to Richard Chadwick, the very-underrated drummer of space-rock pioneers Hawkwind, about his thoughts on modern psychedelic music, and was very surprised to say the least to find that his hopes for psychedelia’s future lay in experimental black metal. And as if that wasn’t interesting enough, he also decided to mention that they just made a new album:

“Yeah, we just finished an album. I remember when we were in a kind of stationary state and we were wondering what sort of theme the album could operate with, and I was like “I want to do a fairy story for adults” and that’s basically what we’ve come up with it. It’s kind of a magical-themed arrangement of songs that are very psychedelic. We’re all really proud of it, it’s all come out really well.”

On top of that, he decided to throw in a hopeful release date and an album title: “I think it’s going to be released sometime in spring. It’s called Into The Woods.

When asked if he enjoyed modern psychedelic music, he told me that while he does, “much of the modern stuff seems to be verging on becoming prog rock or stoner rock.” He continues by elaborating on his distaste for the current state of the genre; “A lot of it seems to be taking things from the past and then playing them without really adding anything new to it.” He also explains how the genre “went from being ambient-focused to being more about the intense aural experience.”

I decide to follow-up on his analysis of psychedelia in stoner rock, and mention that Kyuss, a pioneer stoner band, claimed to have been heavily influenced by Hawkwind. “Oh yeah, Kyuss and Queens [of the Stone Age] are great. We saw them many years back, and I remembered thinking that they sounded a lot like us but without any of the electronic instrumentation, none of that stuff.”

I mention that another genre-pioneer of the 90’s, the Shoegazing masters My Bloody Valentine, also listed Hawkwind as a major influence. He immediately laughs at me for implying that My Bloody Valentine was a pioneer of Shoegaze. He goes on to say that whilst he appreciates Shoegazing and its importance to Psychedelic music at that time, “I feel that honestly that style is being done a lot better in terms of black metal than it is in modern psychedelic music.” He pauses, and quite suddenly adds “although, that’s just my opinion.”

He tells me what he likes about the emerging style, commonly being referred to as Blackgaze: “I think there’s a fantastic contrast between the sheer ferociousness of it with these really beautiful, lush shoegazing passages. I mean, you’ve got bands like Alcest who are creating these really lush soundscapes within a very dark context and I think it’s all really great.” He continues, “Honestly, in my opinion, that sort of stuff is more psychedelic than actual ‘psychedelic music’ these days.”

Indeed, he has high hopes for innovations from the heavier side of guitar music, telling me that “this experimentation’s coming out in heavy metal more than any other genre at the moment, especially with these new black metal bands. Of course, many people will disagree with me on that, they’ll say that stoner rock is where all the innovative bands are, and they’ll point out stuff like ‘oh, Electric Wizard man, oh wow.’” He laughs.

I ask him for his thoughts on Blackgaze’s current poster-boys, Deafheaven, and he calls them a great band, adding that they were definitely one of the main bands in “this whole new wave of black metal music.” The mention of a ‘new wave’ instantly excites him again, and he begins singing the praises of Cascadian Black Metal, happily telling me vaguely about “very atmospheric stuff” coming from “all these different French-Canadians,” adding quickly that “it’s being done in California, nowadays, too.”

Evidently, he’s into more than just the experimental stuff; he told me at the very beginning of our interview that he had just finished listening to Massive Cauldron of Chaos by 1349, a Norwegian band doing their best to keep black metal’s second-wave alive and well. He concludes his metal rant by telling me that he’s also a big fan of death metal, recommending Suffocation and Nile in particular, “Americans do the best death metal, in my opinion.”

I ask him which Hawkwind-inspired band he personally thinks is the best, and we briefly return to psychedelic black metal: “Probably Nachtmystium, from America.” He explains: “I like the fact that they used a lot of techniques from psychedelic rock, like echo-y guitars, synthesisers, but their song-writing was always more aggressive [than ordinary psychedelic rock.] I like their unique sound, it was very psychedelic and gothic.” He recalls me to that he first saw them in Newport, which is where he first suspected their Hawkwind influences, which were later confirmed by album reviews which brought up the influence ceaselessly. He then assures me that the members have since broken into several different bands, all of which have significantly contributed to the underground metal scene.

Before moving onto the topic of Hawkwind, he assures me that the rest of the band do not share his love of black metal, “Dave’s really into jazz, and the rest of them are rockers, really into heavier rock stuff, you know.” His own tastes also go a bit beyond the metallic, too: “I’ve got a load of new techno records, I’ve gotten well into that, and I once thought that techno was sort of the zenith of musical format, in the sense that it could be appreciated all over the world; anyone, of any culture, could relate to it. I think that was related to the idea that technology could cure all the world’s ills.” With a hint of sadness, he adds: “Unfortunately, it has not turned out to be like that.”

This fear seems to fit quite well with the concept of their latest record, The Machine Stops, a fantastic concept album about humanity’s increasing over-reliance on technology.

We discuss the fact that big festivals seem to be on their way out, but he immediately argues that we’ve got more festivals than anywhere else in Europe, and that when festivals do collapse, it’s often a matter of finance. In his opinion, “I don’t necessarily think they’re collapsing, I just think that the festival movement is evolving.”

Telling me more about this evolution, he explains that “I think what’s happened is that a very niche form of live entertainment for a specific group of the public has now become mainstream; you have things like Glastonbury, which is a massive congregation of people who would never normally go camping or consider any sort of alternative lifestyle, so instead they’re just going to experience the actual joy of the event. And while there is certainly a joy to doing those things, it has become what you might say is, compared to the old days, commercialised.”

Delving into the band’s history of live performances, he decides to tell me about the band’s worst review, “he said that when the music seemed to be reaching some sort of climax, the mood would become very psychedelic, as if to say ‘Come on everybody! Let’s hold hands, and let’s be… a tree.’ And I remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s a very oblique way of reviewing a band.’ They were just looking for laughs for themselves, rather than actually describing the event.”

In regards to the ups and downs of performing with Hawkwind, “The best gig we ever did was probably the Loreley Festival in Germany. But I think it’s difficult for bands to appreciate all of their gigs, because they’ve always got this vision of perfection in their minds, which is very rare to reach, and out of hundreds of gigs, you might only get 2 or 3 that come close to that vision that you were hoping for.”

On the other end of the spectrum is his story of when they performed at a friend’s wedding, “which was held at a really stately home, or the gardens of a stately home, and we were playing in a gazebo-type structure which was full with people from the gardens. The set-up was hopelessly inadequate, and the guy running the PA was also hopelessly inadequate. As soon as we started playing, the PA blew up.” He pauses to laugh at the absurdity of the scenario. “It was the worst gig ever already because the sound system blew up, but it was made worse by the fact that it was our friend’s wedding, and we essentially managed to ruin the event.”

He concludes our chat by telling me about his favourite album of all time, “The Who Sell Out.”

“I was just so impressed with the playing and the inventiveness of the harmonies that they were coming out with, and I just love the melodies. I’ve always thought [Pete] Townsend was a great songwriter, and they always had this kind of feral aggression underneath their music, coming mostly from the drums and the bass, which I found really exciting.”

He shortly adds: “I also enjoyed the sort of ‘Pop Opera’ song-writing, especially on the song Rael, which I always found very mysterious, because it was trying to tell this story about a vision that this character has, and it just had this sort of tragedy and wonder about it, which appealed to me as a kid.”

Hawkwind will be playing at the University of Leeds on the 16th of March, in support of their latest album, The Machine Stops.

Zack Moore

(Image: The Mancunian)

Hawkwind will be playing at the University of Leeds on the 16th of March, in support of their latest album, The Machine Stops.

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