:: Interview with Dave Hill ::
by Anders Ekdahl
Demon might not have been as successful as Iron Maiden or Saxon but they were an equal part of what was the NWOBHM-scene back in the 80s. Now that we're in the infant years of the new millennium it's almost like being beamed back 20 years in time. Aside from Iron Maiden and Saxon that has kept it going for all these years we now see more and more old British heavy metal bands coming back. And I like it. In a world were posing seem to be the most important part of being a band who's better at it than the ones that first introduced it. But now these bands have grown old and their posing days are over so all there's left is the music. And what a glorious way to come back. Demon's new album "Space Out Monkey" is every bit Demon that you could ask for. It's as if they picked up from where they left after their last album, only 9 years later and wiser. On a grey Tuesday I called Dave Hill in his record shop to find out more about Demon's past and present.
It's been a while since you last released and album. What have Demon been up to in the 9 years since your last album?
"Actually we continued to play up until 1995. We decided then to take a break because we'd been at it since the late 70s. We were a little bit tired. We had a couple of years off and then we got a call from Germany in 1998, from the Bang Your Head-festival so we went over there and did that. We decided then that we'd better do a new album. Basically that's when it started to move again. Last year (2000) we went to the Sweden Rock Festival in Sweden and last year Record Heaven approached us about the new record and the back catalogue and that's what happened. So we're back with the new album and the release of some of the back catalogue. So it works out now that it's been 9 years since the last Demon album."
From what I've understood you've planned this new album "Spaced Out Monkey" for some time. Why has it taken so long for it to be released?
"I don't think there were any problems. We did have a schedule to release the album earlier this year. We definitely tried to meet the schedule. There's been no problem, really. We also had to re-master the early albums and put in extra artwork and that's been time consuming, to find extra tracks and artwork. We wanted to make sure that they were right so that we could put out those albums the way we preferred."
When I listened to the "Spaced Out Monkey" album the first thing that hit me was how much it still sounds like classic Demon.
"We've tried to keep that there. We've have tried to make a modern album, as we do with all our albums. We tried to keep the Demon stamp on it. There's no use coming back 9 years later and sound like a tired 80s band. We wanted to do something new and fresh but it do sounding very much like the band, which was what we were aiming for."
"Obviously we needed to move on but if you listen to the albums we've done we've tried to not make the same album twice. We wanted to move on again and to represent Demon in the year 2001. It's a fresher sound but we wanted to sound like Demon without losing the Demon trademark and I think we've done that."
Your Swedish label Record Heaven has re-released your first three albums. Do you have plans on re-releasing all the old Demon albums?
"Yes, that's what we're gonna do. We have to go in and re-master them and we're searching for extra artwork and tracks at the moment. The nice thing is that we as a band are able to do them under our own name where it sometimes when the material is re-mastered it's out of the hands of the artist. We're able to be in the driver's seat to make sure it comes out exactly as we want it to. That's always been the Demon tradition, as to try and look out for the best of each album. We're looking forward to them coming out. It'll happen over the next 6 to 12 months."
Some consider "Night Of The Demon" and "The Unexpected Guest" to be your finest hours. Is it possible to create the same feel as you had when those albums were released?
"People ask us that a lot of times. With every album we do we like to try and offer something different every time. I think each album has a memory. When we did "Night Of The Demon" we were just a gigging band. Mike Stone who had a record store in our town worked towards the management side and sort of was in the studio with us. The late Mal Spooner and I had an idea for a few tracks. We met up with Mike by accident and did a thing called "Liar" that got quite good reviews. Looking back it was a simple thing we did. We had written a few simple songs like "Night Of The Demon" and "Into the Nightmare". We went into a studio 40 - 50 miles from where we lived, we went there maybe three or four times. In those days we would go for a day and maybe
do two or three tracks. The way they came about was quite simple. We were playing with the band. We were at that time not out to do an album."
"For the second one "The Unexpected Guest" we were obviously able to go to a studio and spend a couple of weeks. They are all great memories. I have great memories of "The Unexpected Guest". We did it in a place in London that was the old Hammer studios where they did the Hammer films. They had built a studio in there and it was like a big campus. We did "The Unexpected Guest" in there and that was a great memory."
"When we went to do "The Plague" we went to Scotland. Obviously we were planning the albums a little bit more then, we were working on them cause there were keyboards coming in on them. Somebody asked me the other day if we thought when we did the "Night ", "The Unexpected " and "The Plague" that some twenty years later somebody would still be singing the songs and playing the music. We were just some guys in a band, playing and recording in a studio making this music and now twenty years or more has passed. It's quite amazing really."
When you're young you don't think twenty years ahead.
"No, you don't when you're 18 or 19. Now I have a family and my oldest girl is 23 so she was 3 when we made that. I have three more that are all grown up. If somebody had said then that when my oldest is 23 people would still be listening to Demon I wouldn't have believed them. You don't think that far ahead. You just think for the day. Somebody said we got some studio time and we got some songs. You don't think in those terms, you just do the best you can."
When you released "Night Of The Demon" and "The Unexpected Guest" did you experience any controversies over any of those albums?
"There were all sort of things. I remember one of the photo sessions, it was in an actual graveyard, where the police turned up and I ran away with the suit I had on. It made the local papers. It was nothing planned. If it had been planned I don't think I would have done it. I think somebody actually rung the police. There were quite a lot of things. People turning up at gigs giving us upside down crosses. There have been some really weird coincidences with the band over the years. I mean at that time you really didn't think about it. You thought it was really funny. Looking back on it it's like Demon folklore. The press picked up on these things. There were a lot
of things like people from the church standing outside the venues. I remember some years ago, I think it was in the late 80s, some guy came up to me and said to me: Do you know that the cover to "Night Of The Demon" was basically responsible for the start of black metal. I said I wouldn't go that far. I have no idea about that. I think it gets mentioned once or twice but the great thing is that it's a great cover. It was an artist in London who put it together for us. It was quite controversial at that time. It was just really fun the way the press picked up on it. This whole thing about the occult was just company and paper talk."
"The cover represents where covers of black metal came from. It's a striking cover and it was responsible for a lot of the sales of the album. People said that when they were walking into the record shop and that cover was standing there and they'd been tempted to buy the album even though they didn't know the content."
Just from reading the lyrics to the "The Unexpected Guest" album I get the impression that there was a conceptual theme to it?
"For "The Unexpected Guest" we tried to cover the little bits that are unknown to us, the things that are not certain, things that are a mystery. Most of the tracks basically are covering that thing, the darker side. I think the word is observing. We were observing the unknown and the darker side."
Reading the lyrics to "The Plague" I can't help getting a feeling that they're a social comment on the state of Britain at that time?
"What we wanted to do quite honestly was an honest album. "Night Of The Demon" and "The Unexpected Guest" touched on older day evil and "The Plague" was very much touching on modern day evil. With "The Unexpected Guest" we'd made the charts in Britain, we had done a tour and done 2 sold out gigs at the Marquee and 2 days later I was signing on to be unemployed. We were lead to believe that getting an album out, making the charts and touring and you're on your way to the Rock'n'Roll orbit. Basically we found that 2 days later we were all unemployed. We took the newspaper and wrote some comments about things going on in the world at the moment. I think it was two people being angry and sad at the system and that's how it came about. It was on the conceptual side a little bit like "1984". We've always made albums not for the gain of money. I've never been involved in an album that you think you're going to make money from. It has always come from the heart. "The Plague" was a reaction to the business."
It was just that the lyrics seemed so British to me.
"They are obviously that. I think looking back on it there was a lot of unemployment at the time of "The Plague", the Margaret Thacher era. We just took the papers and we wrote "The Plague". It's a gut reaction and an honest feeling. Obviously some of the lyrics reflect the state of Britain."
The artwork for "The Plague" has a really wonderful "1984"/Franz Kafka feel to it.
"There is a lot of that thing about it. A lot of people said that from "The Unexpected Guest" to "The Plague" it was like moving 4 albums, from 2 to 6. They probably wanted us to make another "The Unexpected Guest" or "Night Of The Demon". I think it got that stark energy. It's different from the other two. I think it represents the cover that's on that album. That's why "The Plague" is that way. We wanted to draw a modern image as opposed to the past."
From "The Plague" and forward it seems as if Demon has become more of a commentary on the state of the world than a band singing about the unknown.
"I think the lyrics have become more worldly. Each album tends to represent a moment in time for us, or for myself. We were never black metal but after "The Unexpected Guest" there were so many bands that was black metal so we should move on, which we obviously did. Basically we didn't have to write love songs because I can't write love songs. From after that the lyrics represent the matter of the times. On the "Breakout" album there's a song called "Hurricane" that is a social statement about the state of Britain at that time. The new album is a snap shot of things that are going on around us and I think that's the way we decided to go. I think that they are worldlier songs. On the "Taking The World By Storm" album there's a song called "Remembrance Day" and the content of that song is about what happened on Remembrance Day a couple of years ago in Northern Ireland. The new one is like snap shots and that is what a Demon album has come to be all about."
This is something I've touched upon when I've spoken to British bands, that in some ways Britain seem to be going backwards when the rest of Europe is moving forward.
"I think that Britain is far behind in a lot of ways. Britain has always had this attitude that we're so good at everything but we basically have to learn that we're not. The rest of Europe, and the world, has moved on. I think that Britain has begun to wake up a bit. The new Demon album is not just about Britain. It's a comment on all the things that are going on in the world. There's a song on the new album called "Child Of The Dark Sky" that is talking about kids living in the sewers. We saw a program about that on TV. The track "Never Saw It Coming" is about how fast things happen today. Sometime the news is history by 10.30pm. "Cry From The Street" is a snap shot of street life in any of the major cities, the metropolis. With "Spaced Out Monkey" there is a sort of rap feel because we musically wanted to try to capture the beat of the street. The beat of the street over the last few years has been very much a strong rap feel. The whole of the album is musically where we are in 2001 but what it is, is a snap shot of the world in 2001."
If you have to divide the career of Demon into periods, which would you say has been the best?
"Obviously "Night Of The Demon", "The Unexpected Guest" and "The Plague" we got the first release in the mainstream by Atlantic Records. With "Taking The World By Storm" we got some accolades in the press. Album of the year in one British magazine. Basically the albums represents moments in time and some of them more successful than others. I think, hopefully, that the new album will be the best selling of them all. We've got some great reactions. It's been 8 or 9 years and the world is not waiting at the moment for a new Demon album. I expect 50% to come back and say that they don't like but also that 50% will. It feels good at the moment. The thing with Demon over the years has been that the timing has been wrong, in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's a great moment in time to release a Demon album. There are a lot of the older bands that are not around anymore and not everybody likes the new bands. The moments in time that we've done album that has been successful, I got the same feeling now."
Back in the 80s when NWOBHM was big, did you ever feel overlooked, almost as if you were second class by the media and record buyers?
"Not really. We were fortunate that we were there and because it was a good period we were able to start making records. We didn't have the same success that Maiden or Saxon had but I mean without it we wouldn't have been there and we wouldn't have made records. A lot of those bands from back 15 16 years are now reforming. I think that sometime some of the standard bands have not been as good as they were back in those days. My opinion is that they didn't stay the course and that they're maybe reforming to do the odd gig or two out of nostalgia. It's OK if they're great but I saw a band the other week and I don't think that there was one original member left. It was a good period but I think we've all moved on."
Having had a career that spans more than 20 years, have you noticed any differences in the attitudes of the record buying HM public?
"That's the amazing thing over in Scandinavia and Germany while in Britain it's almost like with anything over 5 years old, it's almost like Spinal Tap. I have noticed a change and an optimism because we've been doing some gigs and there are a lot of older people who are into that music and who want to hear Demon and people like that. A 16 year old can stand next to a 60 year old at a rock concert in Sweden or Germany. In Britain rock has almost been laughed at as Spinal Tap by the media but there are a lot of people who want to hear that music again. In Germany or like in Sweden where you have concerts with people like Alice Cooper, Ronnie James Dio (A package tour that toured smaller Swedish cities - AE) while you couldn't put that concert on in Britain because the media wouldn't go for it. That's the biggest change I've seen in 20 years. Saxon and the likes go on and make good albums but the press in Britain takes no notice. I did the first British interview in 10 years a couple of days ago. Demon would never have continued if it hadn't been for the people in Germany and Scandinavia that love the music and give the band a chance."
When I read some British magazines they seem more geared towards the American bands than giving the home grown a decent coverage.
"They are very much into the new American bands, like in Kerrang! and places. Slipknot, Papa Roach and all those bands. I often see them in Kerrang!. That's what they feature. There's a magazine called Classic Rock, which tend to feature more the classic bands, basically the American bands. We have not been in that magazine despite them been going for 2 or 3 years. I think Saxon has the same problem. I feel that the fans here are demanding now that they want to see it."
"I talked to somebody from Germany and She said that she'd always loved the music. I said to her that we've gotten great reviews from the music papers but we were concerned with what the fans thought. She said 'We are the fans' and I said 'Sorry, I'm thinking that I'm in England', because you'll never get some critic to say that they are fans or stand at the front as they do in Germany or Sweden."
"There's obviously been some form of conspiracy in this country to keep the likes of Saxon from getting no coverage. Perhaps it's going on a little bit everywhere but I'm sure that the end of the day the fans will get to know."
You said that back in the days your biggest markets were in Germany and Scandinavia. Is that still true today?
"I think so yeah. The initial reaction in Germany has been excellent especially since the world didn't expect a new Demon album. In the past, throughout all the albums, it has been Germany. We've played there a lot over the year. We've to find out in a few months what the reactions been. Record Heaven is doing a great job and we're pretty pleased with them."
Something that I've noticed today is that when an album is released it either has a longer or shorter life span.
"I think that there are a lot of instant take-aways going on at the moment. Big companies want a massive killing of a style in a small period of time. A little bit like food today, disposable, they sell a million or two. I think that people will still make music that we'll be listening to in 5 or 10 years time."
"When I look at some of today's hardrock/ heavy metal bands I get a feeling that they're more pop bands, that they are more... - ...Here for the moment, here for the trend. I think that is up to the companies. I don't think that they want to nurture a band for 5 years. They want instant satisfaction, they want reward within months and not years. I don't know if we'll see any of today's Papa Roach or Linkin Park albums last 10 or 20 years."
Isn't it frustrating to be a band today and know that you've recorded an excellent album but all the big labels don't want to touch it because it's not the latest trend of the day?
"I think that is something we have to accept. I got a strong feeling that we're going the reach people with this album. I'm quite happy with that. I knew we weren't gonna be the flavour of the month but I know we got a good product. Someone has to come along and do something they believe in, that is different than the pop kind of new bands of rock. I believe in this and we've received some very great compliments for this."
For some older bands the Internet has shown them that there's still an interest in them and the albums they did. What has the Internet meant to Demon?
"It's been great to Demon. Even though we are released worldwide we haven't been over-exposed in every country. It's been great access for people from South America and from all corners of the World. The gig we did at this Swedish festival last year was because of the demands from the Swedish fans that came on to the site and afterwards went into the Festival site and said that they wanted to see Demon live. So it's been remarkable in that aspect. It's made a lot of people aware throughout the World."