THE VICIOUS HEAD SOCIETY: "This project basically became an outlet for me to express something to the world"
A few weeks ago, I discovered Irish progmetal act THE VICIOUS HEAD SOCIETY for my listening pleasure thanks to the release of "Extinction Level Event" (out since May 28th, 2021 via Hostile Media).
Graham Keane is the mastermind behind TVHS, and he told me more about his new album, musical background and the creative process. Welcome to check it out:
Hey, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. How are you today?
No problem, thanks for having me! I'm doing well, staying busy promoting the latest album despite the madness that's going on in the world at the moment!
Could you please introduce yourself and THE VICIOUS HEAD SOCIETY to our readers?
Sure. THE VICIOUS HEAD SOCIETY is basically a one man progressive metal project from Ireland. I've always been involved with music in one context or another and have always been writing songs, but never really had the confidence to record and release them. Around 7 years ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer, and it completely changed me from that perspective. I felt it was like a calling card to do something meaningful with my time, so I set about finishing my first album (“Abject Tomorrow”) in a more serious way. TVHS basically became an outlet for me to express something to the world. Creating this music has been a lifesaver for me in what was a very tumultuous time.
I suppose to sum it up: TVHS is complex, emotive, progressive metal that draws on my personal life experience and wraps it up in fantastical stories.
So sorry to hear that. But you have my greatest respect for having turned this kind of terrible experience into something positive. Meanwhile, you released your second album “Extinction Level Event”. How do you feel about it, and how was the reception so far?
The reception has been really, really amazing. Beyond anything I could have expected! I had sold out of all merch before its release so I had to do a second run. The reviews have been extremely positive too! I was confident about it before release, I really felt the songs were strong, and I had learned a lot from my first outing and knew there were several mistakes I didn't want to repeat this time. I think it's definitely a case of me putting my best foot forward!
THE VICIOUS HEAD SOCIETY is your project, but you also have some great musicians on board. Besides yourself, who else can we hear on this new release?
It really is a transatlantic project :-) On drums is Klemen Markelj, a session drummer from Slovenia. On Bass I have Pat Byrne from Irish prog rockers HEDFUZY – I recorded some guitar solos for their last album, so it was nice to have Pat lend his talents to the new album. Playing some synth solo is Nahuel Ramos, all the way from Argentina. On Lead vocals is Nathan Maxx, who hails from Los Angeles, California and makes a triumphant return. Also on vocals, but from the darker side of the moon is growler Andy Ennis of the U.K.-based Death metal band OVEROTH. I also have a guest solo from Australia by virtuoso Chris Brooks, and some violin work from Shelley Weiss, who hails from the US. So yeah, there's a lot of miles between us.
Let’s take a look at the expressive cover artwork: What can you tell us about its origins, and how does it reflect the concept of the album?
The artwork is one of the few things I wasn't hugely hands on with for this album. I saw the work of graphic designer Rob Walden online and really liked his art. I sent a message with a short brief, giving him an idea of the kind of scene I wanted. A few days later, he came back with the cover art, and I instantly loved it.
I've actually gotten quite a few hate messages over it from people who think I'm making a political statement about the fall of the US or something like that, but it's not a political statement at all. It was chosen as an evocative image - something like the statue of liberty is recognizable to almost everyone - so I felt it was definitely strike a chord with people and really capture how such an event might look. The truth is I dislike politics immensely, it is very divisive and even worse in this day and age, and I feel that politicians are taking advantage of it.
Could you dive a bit into the story-line with us, please?
Sure! The album tells the story of 7 different archetypal characters that are facing the end of their lives via an event that will destroy the Earth. It explores how they process this event, what their lives have meant, what good or bad they have left in the world. There is a song about serial killer for instance ("Judgement"), who begins to unravel as death is approaching and begs his last victim to forgive him for his wrong doings.
Each story has a real-world question to ask of the listener: Are we harboring ill will towards people in our lives? Is pride holding us back from making amends? Have we valued those we love, or are we taking people for granted etc. It's very upbeat, good happiness stuff haha.
Each story is a different scenario in such regard. I would say it's less of an over-arching story and more about a place in time and space, so I guess it differs a little to some other concept albums in that regard.
Music-wise, “Extinction Level Event” is an amazing prog album. Considering you wrote / produced the songs on your own, makes things even more impressive. What is your musical background, and where do your main influences come from?
From a very young age I wanted to play guitar, but because of various circumstances, I didn't properly get involved with music until I was 18. My late teens were very difficult... I was very depressed and anxious all the time, and playing guitar became as escape from all of that. After a few years of practicing and writing early songs I decided that I wanted to learn more, so I went to music school for a few years. It helped me to really focus on my songwriting, but I wouldn't really say I'm formally trained or anything.
My main influence to actually want to start playing was Eddie Van Halen, I wanted to be like him so much as a kid... watching him made me happy, and I remember feeling like I wanted to make other people feel that way with music, too.
My brothers were also huge progressive rock fans, and I was exposed to Rush, Yes and Genesis (amongst others) from an early age. It was really captivating music, I couldn't believe it was being performed in real time haha! In my teenage years I discovered metal and that became a huge influence too. I guess I'm influenced by many different things. but I would say those early influences are probably the most important.
Since this is a concept album, what was the beginning: theme or music? And could you briefly describe your writing / recording process, please?
For this album, the theme was first. I had a strong vision for it even before I had released the first. In fact, I've been sitting on the artwork for around 4 years now.
My writing process is hard to pin down, but generally an idea will pop into my head and I'll run to my guitar and figure it out, then record it. I tend to then mess with the idea and try many permutations of it until I have something I really love. It isn't always like this though, sometimes songs just write themselves and come together very quickly. It could be a vision or a dream or a cool lyric idea that inspires it. I always have song ideas floating around in my head, generally if one is particularly bothersome, it'll end up being a song haha.
My recording process is very simple: I demo up everything, drums, bass, guitars, synths etc and send it to the musicians for them to record their parts. When they are completed, I re-do all the guitar parts to make sure the performances feel a little bit more organic. It's hard thing to do with a studio-based project, but I'm wary to not over edit things and allow some humanity in there too.
This works pretty well indeed, the result is a real listening pleasure. How did you come up with the name “THE VICIOUS HEAD SOCIETY”, and is there a deeper meaning behind?
Haha! I'm always asked about this! When I was in music school, every second band was a RED HOT CHILLI PEPPERS wannabe. I hate that band, so me and a couple of friends set about writing the most annoying instrumental songs we could in response. We went to a random band name generator on the internet to find a name, and the first thing that came up was TVHS, so we kept it.
Some people think it is a commentary on how angry people are in society, my American friends think it's something to do with a certain sex act haha. It's neither! I thought about changing it many times, but the die is cast now and my fan base seem to like it. At least it elicits a response, so I guess it does the job ;-)
Do you have any plans to bring your music on stage, or is it a pure studio project?
I would love to, but financially it's impossible for me at the present time. At one point I was adamant that it would never happen, but these days I'm more open to the idea. Anything is possible!
How would you describe your local rock/metal scene, and is there something special about it? Did you notice changes over the past years?
Where I live in Ireland has no metal scene at all, I can't think of a metal band from this area. In other parts of Ireland there's a healthy scene with many bands in all kinds of genres. I'm very isolated from it, so I couldn't really comment on it, but there are a lot of great bands here (THE ENIGMA DIVISION, HEDFUZY, SECTILE, KEITH MC COY...).
What can you tell us about your future plans?
At the moment I'm really focused on promoting “Extinction Level Event”, but have already begun work on several songs for a new album. There's talk of a vinyl release for Extinction too which would be awesome!
Sounds promising :-) Do you have any further thoughts you’d like to share here?
I'd like to thank everyone for reading and I would love to have you guys check out the new album. Feel free to say “hello” on any of my social media pages! Many thanks for the interview and helping support underground bands, it's hugely appreciated!
Was my great pleasure, thanks a lot for these insights into your work. All the best for you and your musical plans \m/