With the band featuring members of Newcastle staples like Split Feed, Jacob, Resident and Lamphead, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call Dead Mall a supergroup.
The band was formed as an outlet for its members to explore the angstier, more darkly tinted corners of their artistries – the corners that wouldn’t be so easily tapped into with their other projects, given those acts’ brighter and more pop-centric slants. But that isn’t to say Dead Mall don’t embrace their melodic tendencies. On their punchy and piquant debut single, ‘Cough It Up’, the fivesome fuse gruff, guttural verses with a chorus so catchy that one listen is all you’ll need to have it stuck in your head for weeks.
In addition to being their first release altogether, ‘Cough It Up’ is the first taste of an eponymous EP expected to land before the year’s end. The single was written as the second track for it, and as guitarist Joe Willis (who also fronts Split Feed) said in a press release, “probably took the shortest amount of time to write”. But then again, part of the reason Willis formed Dead Mall to begin with was his ability to shoot from the hip and write with a much looser, more experimental style than he could in Split Feed. Not because that band was difficult to write for, of course, or that he disillusioned with it – but writing as a guitarist and not a frontman, he felt free to journey deeper into his own psyche, and mine areas of creativity that otherwise hadn’t been touched.
“These tracks were some of the first tracks I had started writing where I had the freedom of experimenting with more riffy guitar parts without having to worry about combining them with singing,” Willis continued in his statement. “Pushing the role of lead vocalist aside meant that I could pretty much write whatever came to me, and this one flowed out naturally and very fast.”
As for what themes Willis and co. explore on ‘Cough It Up’, he noted that the track – inspired by the likes of Turnstile, Drug Church and Every Time I Die – was about “about the satisfaction of breaking habits, and seeing habits as an entity that exists purely as a catalyst for downfalls. Breaking a bad habit can often feel as though you’ve been placed on a pedestal above others with similar hardships, yet you still have that bittersweet feeling of guilt for letting something go that should never have been picked up in the first place.”
Have a listen to BLUNT’s exclusive premiere of ‘Cough It Up’ below, then read on for our one-on-one interview with Willis!
How does this project push you out of your comfort zone as a songwriter?
I think if anything, it’s pushed me more into my comfort zone. Ever since the original idea for Dead Mall came about, I was experimenting with a lot of ideas that weren’t quite suitable for Split Feed, especially with the role of singing and playing guitar. As soon as we got Ruairi [Burns] onboard for vocals, I was finally able to step back and think, “Okay, I can pretty much write any kind of music I want now.” It was definitely a hurdle with Split Feed, trying to balance pulling off the vocals on top of the weird chords and lead lines. But having the freedom now with just playing guitar in Dead Mall, it’s been great. The songwriting has felt a bit more natural, which is really cool.
Did you also have the live show in mind, knowing you would have more freedom onstage?
Absolutely. I’ve honestly never been super passionate about singing and playing guitar as a frontman, but now being part of a five-piece band, where we can separate the vocals and the music and really hone in on each element, it’s been a whole new experience, and that’s really exciting. I’m still doing a bunch of lead vocals for Dead Mall, just because there were some parts in the tracks where I thought it would be cool to change it up a bit from Ruairi’s yelling. But being able to focus more on the music has just felt more natural, and I’m ridiculously keen to play shows. We’re super lucky to have Ruairi on board as the frontman, the boys in Split Feed and his other band Jacob have been best friends for years, and we’ve seen him tear it up in the frontman role countless times. I think he brings a really unique vocal sound to Dead Mall, which I’m really excited for people to hear.
What is the plan for getting Dead Mall up on stages?
We haven’t really discussed it much, to be honest. Of course with the current climate of the pandemic, we haven’t really felt the need to discuss any of that just yet. Once shows come back, we’ve talked about hopefully doing an EP release show in Newy, which would be incredible – so hopefully we can get around to doing that. We haven’t been able to practice at all for a really long time, so there’s a very good chance that we’ll be incredibly rusty. But yeah, as soon as we have the EP out and the opportunity arises, we’d love to be able to play some shows.
How did the band itself come together, and what does everyone bring to the fold?
I’ve known all the guys in Dead Mall for ages, they’re all some of my closest mates and I feel super lucky to be a part of something with them. Adam [Lindsay, bass] and I were in Split Feed together, the first tour we ever did was actually with Ruairi’s band Jacob, and we’ve stayed super close with them ever since. Darcy [Long, guitar] is in another band called Lamphead, which I actually get to play live guitar for. And [drummer Liam] Ruddo is in another band called Resident. Organising the band was quite a far-fetched idea at the time, but everyone seemed really keen to do something together, so here we are!
It’s pretty cool because everyone sort of has their own role in the band – Adam’s pretty much the manager at this point, so he sorts out all the social media stuff and everything else in-between, which I am pretty much hopeless at [laughs]. Darcy is the recording engineer – he produced our whole EP, which was really great, we didn’t feel like we had to conform to any deadlines or anything. Ruddo’s really good with experimenting with electronic music, he’s always had a good ear for extra elements that we can add into our music. Ruairi knows his way around screen-printing, which is sick – we don’t have any merch yet, but to have him for that is super valuable. And I mainly write the music. It’s felt really efficient so far.
“Recording the EP in Darcy’s bedroom meant we had all the time in the world, so we had the freedom to add in random ideas at any time.”
You all come from much softer musical backgrounds. What drew you to this trashier style of music?
I’ve definitely always been a big fan of heavier music. When Darcy and I first got together, when the idea for the band came about, we didn’t specifically decide to aim for a hardcore sound. The first ideas for tunes were actually more pop-punk sounding, and way less heavy than what we have now. But I just started demoing much heavier ideas out of nowhere, and I was having way too much fun with it. I think we were all just having a lot of fun playing heavy tunes when we first started jamming – venturing into hardcore territory wasn’t really a conscious decision, but our ideas were just gradually gravitating towards that sound. I think we’ve all got an equal appreciation for heavy music, so once we sort of realised that’s what we were going for, we were just like, “Cool, let’s do it.”
What else can people expect to hear from this EP?
We recorded the majority of the EP last October, but there were just a bunch of things that got in the way which stopped us from being able to finish it sooner. In saying that, though, we didn’t really feel any need to rush. Recording the EP in Darcy’s bedroom meant we had all the time in the world, so we had the freedom to add in random ideas at any time. The majority of the EP is mainly hardcore sounding, but we felt like getting a bit weird with it. There’s pop harmonies, weird guitar sounds, funny vocal lines… Even a part in one of the songs where Darcy ran the mic through all of his guitar pedals and I sung a melody. It’s a bit spooky, but we love it.
‘Cough it Up’ tackles the feelings of guilt that people tend to have when they break a bad habit? How do you reckon with that guilt?
Yeah, it sort of addresses the bittersweetness of being in a position where you feel as though you’re strong enough to break personal habits, yet aware that habits are something that can just as easily develop again, out of nowhere, in a different form. Developing an obsessive nature towards things, I think for me at least, is difficult to avoid in the current climate of the pandemic. It’s easy to fall into the trap of developing unhealthy habits, but the idea behind ‘Cough It Up’ is to basically see habits as a good thing – because the fulfilment of realising that you don’t need something, and you can move on from it, is rewarding. I’ve definitely gotten better at overcoming habits. Although it’s hard to expand my hobby palette due to the lockdown, I’ve just chipped away at trying new things over time, and I’ve learnt that it can be rewarding to try new things rather than just sticking to your ways.
How have you found it best to deal with your vices head-on?
Sometimes for me, it can be as easy as just saying, “That’s enough.” But in other circumstances it can take some time. When I was growing up, I had these really awful habits where I had to do certain things in certain ways – I would have to make sure I shut a door properly before I was able to continue with what I was doing, or I had to make sure things were set up in a certain way before I could relax – and they’re just a couple of examples out of a bunch of shitty habits. I eventually grew out of them, but remembering how frustrating that was for me at the time is something I use to my advantage today. I’m fully aware of how easy it is to subconsciously slip into habits, so just reminding myself of how much they affected me when I was growing up is something that really helps.