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By: Richard Owens
On June 29th, Intensive Square will be releasing their debut album Anything That Moves, something that a lot of people have been waiting a couple of years for. So in anticipation, I had a chat with guitarist and saxophone player Mathew Barnes about the album, as well as influences from literature and film.
(((o))): First of all, how are things with the Intensive Square guys right now?
Mathew: Really good at the moment, we’re excited to get the album out, excited to get the video out, looking forward to playing live again and we’re doing some writing as well. So it’s all pretty cool, pretty busy.
(((o))): When’s the [‘Vegetarians’] video coming out, you reckon?
Mathew: It’s not confirmed, we hope Monday, but it’s not confirmed yet. We were at it last night, it’s done.
(((o))): Sweet, that’s something to look forward to! This is a bit of a weird question… but there’s footage on YouTube of Intensive Square years and years ago – I don’t know if a lot of the people in Intensive Square now were in it at the time – where the sound got pulled…
Mathew: [Laughs] Yeah, I know what you’re on about.
(((o))): Yeah, I was just wondering what the hell happened, I think it’s great because that footage was the no nonsense attitude of Square summed up perfect to me. What happened?
Mathew: It was quite like a pussy little gig Haverfordwest, at the college, and if I remember rightly, Rich [Lewis, drums] and maybe Tom [Shorty, bass] was studying there at the time, on the music course and they had to put on a gig as a part of their project, so obviously they were in a band and said we’d do it. Our singer at the time was Sam Llewyn, he was coming on stage and he had a glass of water in his hand. Their course leader was like, “You can’t take water on stage”.
Mathew: [Laughs] So Sam just pushed past him and we just started playing, ‘cause that’s ridiculous, obviously, you need water onstage if you’re a singer. I think what it actually was someone in the band might have given him some attitude at some point during the night or something and he was just looking for an excuse to be a dick, basically. So we went on, he pulled the plug, and yeah… we went mental, because with valve amps on stage, you can’t just turn them off. The head of the music course that specialises in popular rock music should know you can’t just turn amps off like that. The equipment was fine, but we didn’t know that at the time, we were pissed off because it just looks bad, so we just went fucking mental at him. I think on the video you can see Joe [Harvatt, guitar] throws his guitar onto the stage and Sam threw the microphone at the guy and it hit him in the chest, then the video stops. After the video stopped, Sam actually poured a glass of water all over the guy’s head and scolded him in front of all his students, so… it was fucking really funny. Yeah, the police came, venue got cleared out, I had a fucking hour-long argument with the bloke, called him all the names under the sun [laughs], yeah, it was pretty funny. It was a good night, it was class! [Laughs]
(((o))): [Laughing] It sounds like it man, fucking hell!
Mathew: God, that’s ages ago. I mean, that’s when we just started out. We had shit back home when we were starting out. We had like the crowd rush the stage and because there’s no security in the venue, so they were like “we’re gonna crowdsurf this”, and someone spilt some beer on the monitor. We had a big commission with the sound company at that gig and they were like, “we’re gonna call the police”. That’s crap. Just fuck it. Whenever we go back home to play now, we have a really good time and the gigs are fucking mental, and they always have been like that for some reason… I think it’s just when there’s a good gig happening in Pembrokeshire – ‘cause there’s not that many gigs happening – people just let their fucking hair down and go a bit wild.
(((o))): Yeah, there’s not much of that in South Wales in general, is there?
Mathew: Nah, less and less… I don’t remember there being a time… there was a couple of periods where you’d have good spells where someone was trying to do something and you’d go to a few gigs, but I can’t remember a consistent scene in the rural areas of South Wales, in the towns, y’know.
(((o))): Yeah, I think that’s why Intensive Square have such big support because Square is really different and… I dunno, sounds like blowing smoke up your arse, but you guys are obviously really talented and push the scene a little bit.
Mathew: Thanks man. I hope we can do that. We just write what we like, that’s the thing for us, that’s how it comes out. We’re lucky, I mean, we wouldn’t be anywhere if people didn’t like us. We write what we like, we hope people like it and we’re lucky that some of them do, so it’s good for us to come back home and get a good reaction, ‘cause there’s nothing worse than playing a shit gig, it’s not a nice feeling. I mean, sometimes you can play a gig and there can be loads of people, but the vibe isn’t right or whatever; or you can go to a gig with just a few people and have a great vibe. Whenever we play in Cardiff or in Pembrokeshire, we just have an amazing laugh really.
(((o))): That’s awesome! So, about the album now, I know the musical influences are pretty obvious but I read somewhere that literature and films are just as influential for you guys.
Mathew: Yeah, that’s true.
(((o))): I was just wondering what books or films sort of influenced the songs on the album or the band in general.
Mathew: On ‘Trials of The Ubermann’, that song is about a film called Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Japanese film from the late 80’s, a science fiction thing where basically this bloke, he augments his body with mechanical devices and tries to turn himself into a robot. It’s a sci-fi horror film, it’s wicked. That’s what it’s about, pretty much. There are a few nods towards David Lynch films and stuff, with various lines lifted and altered to fit the song. There’s a line in Blue Velvet – that’s the album title actually, Anything That Moves, a line where Frank Booth screams at a room full of people, “I’ll fuck anything that moves”. That’s where that comes from. There’s references to films and stuff all over the place in the lyrics, mainly, that’s how it comes about. I’m really into Stanley Kubrick and Lynch but I like action films and horror films as well. I watch films all the time, so it’s not really specific films – except for ‘Trials of The Ubermann’ – but it’s not specific films that influence it. In terms of literature, again, nothing specific. I really like J.G. Ballard.
(((o))): I’m not aware of him.
Mathew: He wrote Crash and Empire of the Sun, he’s cool, I really like his discretions. I really like Cormac McCarthy… I don’t read that much but when I do read I get into stuff. I really, really love Dracula as well, it’s one of the coolest books ever and I think about that all the time. A really cool, cold atmosphere, it’s got a really cool vibe about it.
(((o))): Yeah, it’s a very slow book, isn’t it, sorta like an impending doom you can feel all the way through.
Mathew: Exactly, yeah. I think that’s wicked. High tension all the time.
(((o))): Knowing you guys for quite a long time, I was sorta surprised when the photos of you guys recording at Foel Studios popped up on Facebook. There wasn’t much news leading up to it, really. I was just wondering how you guys went about it, did you know Chris [Fielding] beforehand or was it a spontaneous decision to record there?
Mathew: Well, we were just looking around studios that were kinda in our price bracket, y’know. We looked at a few other studios… we were looking at producers more than the studios to be honest, we were looking at people that we liked, and we listened to some of the stuff Chris had done and we got in contact with him and talked about his processes. We had a bit of a back and forth with him and yeah, thought he’d be cool. He was just on our wavelength a bit. A few of the other guys we couldn’t afford, we couldn’t afford to go to a big studio. Foel is an amazing studio, but it’s also accessible to our bands at our level.
(((o))): It’s weird because Foel’s called a good reputation, I thought they’d be pretty expensive.
Mathew: Well, we’ve put a fair bit of money into it… for us, that year, didn’t go on holiday, y’know, that’s the way we looked at it. We made an album instead, and that was better. I think it’s better to do that than sit in the sun for two weeks.
(((o))): Yeah, it lasts longer.
Mathew: Yeah! I dunno really, I don’t want to come across as always looking for the cheapest and affordable option to us: it was the best thing we could get for the money and Chris had worked on some cool stuff we liked, so we thought right, yeah, that’s probably the way to go. I think Flayed Disciple had recorded there, and Dyscarnate, I mean… both those albums sounded great. And he’d worked on Electric Wizard and Napalm Death’s stuff, obviously we like all that shit as well. Once we had the back’n’forth with him, we thought, “yeah, he’s probably gonna get our stuff” and when we actually went there to work with him, he just nailed our sound, made it sound better, basically. It was the right thing to do.
(((o))): Yeah, ‘cause a lot of the songs don’t sound anything like demos really, like you can recognise them but it’s much fucking heavier now – which I didn’t think was possible. Just so much fucking heavier.
Mathew: Well, those demos we did in our bedrooms. They’re pretty DIY, badly recorded. We had a laugh, we knew what we knew, we’ve come a long way since then, you know, the songs are there in a rough form.
(((o))): Yeah, it’s not the preferred standard for you guys, or for anyone really.
Mathew: We recorded one of those demos in Rich’s house and we actually isolated the amp in one room, the front room of the house, and then was actually playing in the next room and the amp was in the room with the mic and it was turned up full, in the terrace, on fucking Richard’s street in Cardiff, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. It was just wild. That shouldn’t have been happening, and the result is a set of recordings with no bass, no guts, y’know? [Laughs] But we still recorded the amps on full blast, it was fun. We’re just really happy with the way the album’s come out, what Chris did with the sound, I thought it was amazing.
(((o))): Yeah, it’s really good man. I was gonna ask how was it, but you obviously had a good time there.
Mathew: We had a wicked time there! It’s isolated and that’s good, because you get your head down. We weren’t really used to it… some of the boys in the band have lived together but the five of us have never spent that much time together, and worked that intensively – excuse the use of that word [laughs] – we’d never worked like that, in that way together, for that long, in that place. Beautiful surroundings and stuff, and it was really inspiring. And Dave [Anderson], the guy who runs the studio, he was wicked, really accommodating. It was just a really cool vibe, a really good place to go.
(((o))): Sorta like what you said about the holiday…
Mathew: Yeah, it felt like a holiday in a way, except we had stuff to do.
(((o))): So yeah, the artwork for Anything That Moves, it’s pretty graphic and suggestive. Was the artwork something you guys had in mind or was Tom given free rein to do what he wanted?
Mathew: We spoke about it… the thing with the band is, in the lyrics, they’re quite literal, and for me there’s a strong visual idea that goes along with every single song that gets written. So when it comes down to artwork, I do have an idea and so do the other boys, but we’re not the artists, Tom is. We might tell Tom what we might like or whatever, but ultimately, it’s in his hands, he’s the one with the palette and we want him to have as much free rein as possible. The back cover for example, we said “it’d be cool if you could draw some cannibals” and that’s what he came up with, it’s fucking wild, and yeah that was it.
(((o))): On the back?
Mathew: Yeah. Have you not seen it?
(((o))): Nah, I haven’t.
Mathew: It’s fucking horrible. It’s a line drawing, its amazing man, you’ll love it. It’s funny and it’s heavy, it’s not just daft, it’s gross. It’s cool though. The front cover, we spoke about what we wanted and he said, “I’m experimenting with this technique at the moment, so try this out”, and he sent us a few versions of what he’d done and we picked that one, as simple as that really.
(((o))): Yeah, it sorta reminds me of the early Carcass artwork.
Mathew: Yeah, I guess it’s reminiscent of that. It’s cool. We just wanted something that was – as you said – it is suggestive. He nailed it basically, it’s what we wanted.
(((o))): It’s awesome. Like you said, with Anything That Moves, you’re already working on new material. Is anything solid planned for that stuff, like an EP or recording?
Mathew: We haven’t got any solid plans for what to do with it… we did talk about an EP at one point but, personally, I’d prefer to do an album. We started writing, Rich and me have spent the past week writing new stuff, and we’re almost at the point where we’ve got arrangement for a new track, minus vocals. I’d like to get into the studio in twelve months, get straight back on it. We don’t want to leave it like we did with this one, so long coming, we’ve kind of learned a lesson from that, we know we need to work faster.
(((o))): I know what you mean, to keep the ball rolling.
Mathew: Yeah, we definitely want to do that, it’s exciting. We’re enjoying the band at the moment so we wanna jump on that and wring as much out of it as we can.
(((o))): Especially with the enthusiasm for the new album, it must be a good feeling.
Mathew: Yeah, that’s really exciting for us, ‘cause like I said earlier, we’ve been lucky we’ve had a following locally but we’ve never had music out to the standard we want it at. Now we’ve got a decent-sounding album that kind of represents our sound. We’d like to have music that’s bang up-to-date with what we want to be right now because those songs are pretty old, so we wanna get new stuff out that represents how we’re writing at the moment. The sooner we do that, the better.
(((o))): I get what you mean, where you are right now… really generic question, but a lot of people have asked about dates and tours and stuff, what’s your hopes and plans for in the future? Are there any places you want to tour specifically or bands you want to play with?
Mathew: Well, we’ve got one gig booked in Jersey at the moment, and we want to organise and album launch. We’d like to tour the UK properly, which we’ve never done, we’ve always played little sprints of gigs, so we’d like to do a proper UK tour, definitely. We’d like to play in Europe, anywhere really. Joe and Rich already have experience with Europe and Rich has been to America now with Conan, and it sounds like he had a wicked time. We just want to get out and play really, we don’t care where it is. And in terms of bands we’d like to play with, we’d love to get out and do a cool support slot, just with any band that we like basically. It would just be cool to do that, I guess. We supported cool bands in the past but they’ve only been for one-off shows, so it would be really good to tour.
(((o))): Yeah, just to do it. I was thinking how awesome it would be, considering Joe and Rich, a Conan/H A R K/Intensive Square tour would be. I think that would be pretty awesome.
Mathew: Yeah, personally, I think that would be a right laugh. Whether the planets would align to make that happen or not, I don’t know. They’re all three pretty different bands. I think that’s a good thing, to me, but I don’t know whether the audiences would be receptive to that. I’d love to play a show to that crowd, if we could get it together, I just don’t know.
(((o))): Yeah, well that’s about it, I appreciate the interview.
Mathew: No worries man.
You can buy Anything That Moves through Black Bow Records