Reverb, Fuzz and Melody – Deathcats interview


I first saw Deathcats a few months back and I was instantly smitten (writes Andy Wood). The name initially strikes you as being an apt one for a hardcore band and images of the band in balaclavas and wielding instruments like weapons didn’t discourage this thought. On stage though the Glasgow based trio come across as rather gentle souls, looking as though there was no place they’d rather be than standing on a stage playing some songs.

And what songs they are… The hardcore thing isn’t wholly off the mark but the influence of early 80s American DIY punk artists such as Black Flag, Minutemen and Fugazi is just one element of the Deathcats sound. They have a raw energy and enthusiasm but also create snappy, catchy songs with elements of surf guitar, Postcard Records and throw them into the Deathcats pop blender to come up with a fine, fine set of songs that will have audiences smiling and trying to overcome their urge to dance like loons.

To date, Deathcats have only released one single, the rough and ready lo-fi Shred Or Dead! It’s a rather enjoyable introduction to the band, very rough around the edges but showcasing their exuberant way with melodies and tunes. They also possess cool, witty titles such as ‘I Know I Say I Love Being Single (But I Cry Myself  To Sleep When I Think About You)’ which says more about relationship break-ups and putting on a brave face in under three sweet minutes than a number of supposed songwriters of the heart can do in a lifetime.

Singer/Guitarist James MacGarragle undertakes the inquisition for your enlightenment and entertainment. All hail Deathcats.

Please introduce yourselves. Who are you and how did you come to be recruited to Deathcats?

Hello. I’m James and I started the band. I play in another band called Queen Jane and I wanted to start another band that sounded completely different. I recruited Harv, the Queen Jane guitarist and long-standing friend of mine, to play drums and Scott who was a good friend from Uni to play bass. Harv wasn’t really a drummer and Scott wasn’t really a bass player so it’s cool that they’ve developed as time has went on. I wanted those two guys to be in the band as they were people I hung about with outside music so spending so much time together as a band would be easy.

Where did the name originate from? Are you cool for cats?

I just came up with it one day and I started doing some daft illustrations and I kept saying that I’d like to form a thrash band under that name, The name stuck but the genre didn’t thankfully as I’m terrible at solos. Yes, we are very cool for cats. My main man Pebbles is chilling with me now as I write this.

What are your influences, musical or otherwise?

A lot of early American hardcore bands are a major influence in regards to our outlook. The whole DIY scene that grew from Black Flag through to Sonic Youth etc. If I were to pick one band it would be Fugazi. They just make me want to play music and be in a band. Sound wise it ranges from The Beach Boys to Sonic Youth. It’s all about reverb, fuzz and melody.

Why be in a band? Isn’t it just a heck of a lot of work only to reap a hell of a little reward?

This is a good question and I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately as I’ve just finished Uni and the whole ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ keeps getting thrown at me. I played in Queen Jane for years and we grew from this shite high school band into a really tight outfit. We worked really hard and landed some good gigs and got a nice wee following etc but I never really knew where it was going to go. I used to get stressed out too much and think that the hard work we were putting in wasn’t paying off. With Deathcats, it’s different. We’re not the type of band that could ever fill big venues or get in the NME. There is no ‘maybe we’ll get big’. Therefore there is no other incentive rather than the fact that we really enjoy it. We all have fairly shit jobs and would happily miss a few days of work to play some out of town shows and sleep one someone’s floor.

It’s basically a hobby that I’m really passionate about. As you get older you have to do a lot more things that you don’t like such as pay rent, go to work etc. Being in a band is a form of escapism as clichéd as that sounds. I no longer get stressed though about the reward or whether we’ll ‘make it’. I’m just really happy to be playing music that I really like and getting to play and become friends with bands I genuinely love such as Secret Motorbikes, Halfrican, Kill Surrrf and Los Tentakills. We’ve recently been asked to play up in Shetland, all expenses paid. I think that’s fucking nuts that someone is asking us all the way up there based on some lofi recordings on the internet.  It makes me really happy. Things like that are why we’re in a band, it’s nice to be involved in something where people actually give a fuck.  I put on a gig recently with The Shithawks, Halfrican and Los Tentakills headlining. I had all the stress of organising it and working the doors etc. It was mobbed and I managed to pay all the bands well and everyone was so stoked. When Tentakills came on I lost it and it was one of the best gigs of my life. We all partied like mad after it and the next day I was just thinking ‘This is the life!’.

What has been the best moment of being in Deathcats so far?    

We put on a charity show back in February to raise money for the Southern General Spinal Unit. My girlfriend’s father was in a motorbike accident last year and was injured pretty badly. He got a lot of help there and I wanted to raise some money for them. Kill Surrrf, Halfrican and Los Tentakills all played for free, the place was pretty much sold out and we raised £500 for charity. It was amazing to have raised all that money for a good cause by simply just having one of the best nights ever. It also meant a lot that so many people came down because of the cause as well.  It was emotional, man!

And the worst / most awkward? 

I don’t think we’ve ever had that many bad experiences. We’ve been messed over by a certain promoter once and it was just plain awkward like ‘are you genuinely paying us £6 in pound coins!’. Our mate Ben got kicked out a venue for jumping on stage with us once, that was a rad gig up until that point and it definitely ruined the vibe. Ben has the moves and the patter  to back it up so the night was ruined!

How would you describe your music to someone who has yet to have the privilege of hearing Deathcats yet?

I’d probably just get my phone out and bring up the Bandcamp. It’d be a lot easier. Fuzzy guitar pop with loads of reverb.

Can you tell us a bit about your debut E.P. Shred Or Dead!?

Shred Or Dead is ancient and it’s ridiculous that we haven’t put anything out since then. It’s 3 songs that we recorded in a day in our friend Josh’s house. We were desperate to get some songs out after a few failed attempts. So desperate that I actually drummed on the tracks as Harv couldn’t get the day off work. It was recorded in a very basic manner but I think it sounds good and Josh done a decent job considering he’s never had any official sound engineering night classes up at Cumbernauld college.

Have you had any approaches from Danny Dyer to appear in a future Deathcats video after you named a song after him?

 Unfortunately not. He did do a DJ slot in Cumbernauld’s only nightclub recently which basically means he’s really fucking skint so maybe he’ll come calling soon.

If you could put together your ideal gig (with time, money and mortality no objectives) who would you invite to be on the bill and where would you hold it?     

Awww man this is a crazy question! I’ll just list some bands I’d love to see live. Fugazi. Black Flag. Minor Threat. Thee Headcoats. The Mummies. Sonic Youth. The Clash. The Smiths.

What do the coming months hold for Deathcats?

We recently recording some songs with Chris from Casual Sex so we’ll hopefully pop them online soon. We have a shitload of Scottish shows in August and we’re playing some places that I’ve never been to so I’m really excited about that. We’re also going to start recording an album and try and get that out asap as we’re fed up sitting on songs for ages.

Anything you’d like to add?

Today was my first shift back at work after an amazing two weeks in Spain and then I had band practice. I’m really tired so some of these replies may be lacking the usual Deathcats charm, I can only apologise for the lack of CAPS LOCK.

A video session by Deathcats:

Deathcats play Sneaky Petes, Edinburgh on Thursday 15th August then two nights at the Cool Cat Club, first at Beat Generator Live!, Dundee on Friday 16th and then at the 13th Note, Glasgow on Saturday 17th.