You might not think it from the sexed-up riffola that permeates their every swaggering musical move, but Demob Happy are lifelong, stone cold nerds. “The teacher used to chase us out of the music room at break times,” singer Matt Marcantonio recalls, still exasperated, of the band’s first days together at college. “They’ve got a few young kids who are desperate to play piano at break, and they’re telling us to get out. Madness. ‘Go and smoke weed by the sheds!!’” Drummer Tom Armstrong chips in: “We did a Monsters of Rock project in college when we were 17 where you had to cover one of the bands from the original lineup. We ran there first thing in the morning so we could be Led Zeppelin. Obviously no-one else was there.” Guitarist Adam Godfrey, meanwhile, had his own uniquely methodical route into the rock world. “I hadn’t really had music in my life until I was a teenager, so then I had this musical puberty where I thought, I’m gonna just find all the best things throughout history,” he laughs. “I collected it all. I actually did do research because I figured I might as well start off with the best there has ever been.”
If it all marks the then-teenage trio out as endearingly massive keenos, then the result 10 years later is a far more bewitching blend. Armed with a meticulously curated mental library of music’s brightest and best, and blessed with a decade spent honing their songwriting and musicianship to levels that far surpass your average three-chord, plug-in-and-play wallop, it sets Demob up as a strangely unique proposition: a blistering rock’n’roll band with all manner of intricate tricks lurking beneath the surface, happy to delve into the genre’s extensive back catalogue and mix it into an end product that’s entirely their own. “I think we’ve always sat in a funny place because we’re not that indie, and we’re not screaming heavy metal – it’s rock but there are chords and melodies in there that are pop. People don’t know where to put us,” suggests Matt.
On second LP ‘Holy Doom’ they’re pushing this duality further than ever. Even from the trio of singles that precede the record – the thundering hammer-swing of ‘Be Your Man’, ‘Fake Satan’’s purring “voodoo hootchie-cootchie” and ‘Loosen It’’s twitching, itchy guitar jabs – you can see that the Brighton trio are embracing all their sides at once. “When we were putting this album together, the exact centre of what we wanted it to be was Queens of the Stone Age and The Beatles,” the singer grins. “The Beatles in the desert – that was the idea. Peyote instead of acid, and the desert instead of India.”
But what are the sonic lessons we need to learn to fully get to grips with Demob’s peculiar sonic brew? Let them explain…
"People don't know where to put us."
— Matt Marcantonio
Lesson one: A+B+C+D=X
When the band sat down at their Eastbourne studio to turn the ingredients of 'Holy Doom' into one gargantuan rock monster, they found themselves with an overwhelming amount of material on their hands. So what did they do? Make a venn diagram, of course! “There was '70s, Zeppelin-influenced stuff, tracks with a more modern Queens-y vibe, '60s stuff and then outliers. And in the middle there was the mission statement with a big crucifix, which is what we set out to do with the record,” Tom explains of their typically intricate approach. “We can tear it apart because we are nerds and we're very self aware,” Matt explains. “But at the core, we're just songwriters. If we wanted to, we could be in an EDM band and we'd still write good songs.” Thankfully, they haven't tested that theory out yet...
Lesson two: Ideas ÷ 2
“If anything, [first album 'Dream Soda'] was a little jarring. One song had five tempo changes in it and this time we were a bit more aware of maybe just having three?” Matt laughs. “It had so many ideas and was trying to be in your face and quite heavy, [so we learned] that it's better to give the things that you do say space to be heard and to breathe. Give someone a second to compute it,” agrees Tom. If this all hints at a pared-back Demob mk II however, then fear not: there are still more ideas in 'Holy Doom''s little finger than most bands' entire back catalogue. “There's a lot for people to chow down on even if we do slim it down,” assures Matt.
Lesson three: Positive ↔ Negative
Bury down deep into Demob's core and you'll find a strange yin-yang of light and shade. From sweet and sour sonics to playfully dark imagery, there's a sense of these opposing forces meeting in a bittersweet harmony throughout. “I've always had this Catholic guilt about not upsetting people, I was always trying to find the light [side of myself], but I learnt that the two sides only co-exist because there can't be one without the other,” the singer explains. “Everything on the album is an exploration of that. I've always hidden behind two or three different layers of meaning like a defence mechanism, but I'm letting people in just a little bit now.”
Lesson four: Bigger ≠ Better
The common preconception of 'rock' might have changed from the saucy days of Zeppelin and co. to the current devil-fingered Download stereotype, but 'Holy Doom' finds the trio throwing things back to the days when riffs were deliciously feral and rock got you hot under the collar. “There's a pressure to take all of the human element out of the drums and keep it perfectly in time, but that's not fucking cool,” grimaces Matt. “A lot of what is considered rock now is completely sanitised; to breach the mainstream you have to pop it up. And we're not going down that path, which might be to our detriment in the short term game, but we don't really care.”
"I'm letting people in just a little bit now.”
— Matt Marcantonio
By rights, 'Holy Doom' should find Demob Happy opening those doors without making any concessions. Full of intelligent idiosyncrasies but delivered with sweaty gusto, it's a record that draws all of their disparate parts together into one exhilarating whole. Bet that music teacher's kicking himself now.
'Holy Doom' is out March 23rd via SO Recordings.
Taken from the March 2018 issue of DIY. Read online or subscribe below.
Photos: Jenn Five / DIY