“What the hell were we thinking?,” exclaims Dan Taylor, guitarist for U.K. indie soul-rock titans The Heavy, of the band’s audacious album, The Glorious Dead. “We wanted to make a bold statement – it’s not shy, but a beast unto itself.” “It’s over the top, but in a good way,” adds charismatic Heavy frontman Kelvin Swaby. “With this record, we went pretty cinematic: we basically set out to score a film that hasn’t been written.”
Indeed, The Glorious Dead proves singular: Frankensteining everything from swampy voodoo and b-movie zombies with garage-rock guitars and Gospel-soaked soul, it becomes a whole other creature feature unlike anything else you’ll hear this year. The Glorious Dead isn’t just The Heavy’s third full-length: it’s also the group’s most ambitious effort, traveling sonically from the group’s South England home to America’s deep South, and beyond. It’s also building off momentum from The Heavy’s greatest success, the international smash single “How You Like Me Now?,” off the band’s acclaimed previous album, 2009’s The House That Dirt Built.
An infectious anthem of hard-rocking maximum R&B, “How You Like Me Now?” exploded upon release: it became the first song David Letterman’s ever requested an encore for when The Heavy played it on his “Late Show,” and has appeared everywhere from “Entourage” episodes, Academy Award-nominated film The Fighter, and the trailer for the new Mark Wahlberg comedy Ted. “How You Like Me Now?” continues to enthrall: on the recent climax of the 2012 season of NBC’s hit show “The Voice,” Adam Levine’s team contestant Tony Lucca performed the song to massive acclaim. “That was surreal,” says Taylor. “It’s taken on legs of its own. I can’t complain, but I wouldn’t want to be known for one song – it’s not our peak.”
“It’s such a big tune, people ask, ‘How are you going to top that?’,” Swaby adds. “But we’re not going to lie down and play dead.”
As such, The Glorious Dead rockets out of the grave with supernatural force. Alternately haunting and relentless, album opener “Can’t Play Dead” thunders as if Jack White remixed “Ghost Town” by The Specials. It’s followed by “Curse Me Good,” which provides a jarring contrast with its sweet whistled hook, George Harrison-meets-T.Rex acoustic strum, and a heartbreaking soul vocal from Swaby. “It’s good to have a bit of light and shade amid the onslaught of heavy guitars,” Taylor explains. “I find we’re always trying to recreate the diversity of, say, The White Album, but with beats.”
Likewise, “Big Bad Wolf” combines primal howling à la Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, funkdafied breakbeats, and eerie electronics that recall Luniz’ stoned rap classic “I Got 5 On It.” “Think vintage, but keep it contemporary – that’s our approach,” Swaby explains. “It’s integral to make everything sound like samples from our record collection, but with a modern edge. We’re not afraid to use technology, and everything needs to have that tight, heavyweight bottom end.”
Epitomizing this all-inclusive strategy is The Glorious Dead’s centerpiece breakthrough track, “What Makes A Good Man?” Defiant yet uplifting, “What Makes A Good Man?” contrasts Swaby’s gritty soul searching with girl-group call-and-response vocals and soaring, epic strings. Its creation provided the spark that would prove crucial to the album’s inception. Looking to soak up some Southern Gothic inspiration, The Heavy traveled far from their hometown near Bath, England all the way to Columbus, Georgia on the advice of their U.S. tour-bus driver, Sam Phillips. There, Phillips hooked the group up with a number of church-trained singers and players: they would take Swaby and Taylor’s song ideas to another realm, like singer/keyboardist Lloyd Buchanan’s intense contribution to “…Good Man?” “We had the beat and the chorus for ‘Good Man,’ and when Lloyd started jamming on the B-3 and singing on it, I was like, ‘This is going to be insane,’” Swaby says. “The Gospel singers started doing the chorus they already knew they song – they made it sound like the Supremes or Ronettes. It was an incredible feeling: after that, we were on our merry way.”
Taking the material to yet another level was the contribution of Gabriel “Bosco Mann” Roth, Daptone Records co-founder and bandleader of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, with whom The Heavy had toured extensively. Roth ended up scoring innovative string and horn parts to four of The Glorious Dead’s ten songs. “It doesn’t sound like what Gabriel does with the Dap-Kings,” Taylor says. “He got into the mindset to do something different.” “He’s such a talented entity,” Swaby continues. “I couldn’t believe what was coming out of the speakers. It was so fitting, with this vintage sound, and amazing beauty. It reminded me of these black-and-white films I used to watch as a kid.”
Film loomed as large an influence on The Glorious Dead as music. As key inspirations, Taylor cites the tweaked Americana of Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law and the voodoo vibes of the James Bond classic Live and Let Die alongside ‘60s Mod rave-ups and the atmospheric Brit multiculturalism of Fun Boy Three and The Specials; Swaby, meanwhile, explored low-budget horror flicks alongside the controlled screaming of garage-rockers The Sonics, Tom Waits’ elastic growl, and soul giants Al Green and Otis Redding.
Starting in January 2011, Taylor, Swaby, and bandmates Spencer Page (bass) and Chris Ellul (drums) began combining these ingredients into their own idiosyncratic blend – a process launched by The Heavy building their own studio and choosing to produce The Glorious Dead themselves. To mix the results, the band first worked with longtime associate Jim Abbiss (Adele, Arctic Monkeys) at Peter Gabriel’s famed Real World complex, then finished up with Paul Corkett (The Cure, Nick Cave, Björk). “Self-producing was all about being self-sufficient in realizing the vision we had,” Taylor says. “Your third record is judged as to whether you’re there to stay, or slide off the face of the earth. We want to stick around, so we took our balls out and went for it.” “I love what we’ve done,” adds Swaby. “We got our deadpan heartbreak down. This record suggests how we continue to walk among the dead – now just in a few more places, and with more of a swagger.”
The Glorious Dead spawned the mighty lead single 'What Makes a Good Man?' a funk-ridden, soul-wrenching study of a deep spiritual question. What Makes A Good Man? has been featured in trailers for HBO, Lawless, Borderlands 2 and Elementary, and the band gave TV performances on The Late Show with David Letterman, Last Call With Carson Daly and The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson.
Since the dawn of The Glorious Dead, The Heavy have done anything other than rest on their laurels. 2013 has seen them reprise their smash hit 'How You Like Me Now?' for ESPN's Draft Week. The song was reworked to feature a guest verse from none other than 50 Cent, who happily enveloped himself in The Heavy's swamp-funk, and even performed in a brand new video. Since then, the song has gone on to reach Gold status in the USA, a stunning success from a British band on a label as independent as they are.
The Heavy came back to the US to perform at Spike TV's Guys Choice Awards as the house band in June 2013. Touring in 2013 has so far been a SOLD OUT UK Tour, an EU Tour in May, plus USA and Canadian dates in June and August, with another EU/UK Tour booked for the end of the year. Festival highlights this summer include Ottawa Jazz Festival, Rock-A-Field in Luxembourg, Hove in Norway, T In The Park in Scotland, Glastonbury and WOMAD in England, Osheaga in Montreal, Outside Lands in San Francisco and Afropunk in New York.
To date, this true original of a band have sold 750,000 singles and over 150,000 albums. Long live The Heavy.
The Heavy Headlines
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