Dani Filth: “We Picked On Jesus… It Could Have Been Hitler, But Everyone Already Thinks He’s A C**t”
Ask Dani Filth whether he plans to accompany his daughter to see his Suffolk-neighbour Ed Sheeran at the pop singer’s forthcoming hometown mega-shows, and the reply is very Dani Filth. A chuckle, a sarcastic grin, and a tongue-in-cheek answer: “No, I’d probably kill him.”
There’s something wonderfully reassuring about this. Twenty-eight years since a teenaged Daniel Davey started Cradle Of Filth in the villages of his home county, the man has lost none of his dark humour, or sense of what a black metal singer is supposed to represent. Despite this, his band’s name is probably the genre’s best known, and their success and stylish flair found them on the Kerrang! cover multiple times, as well as mainstream TV shows like Never Mind The Buzzcocks.
As the one constant in the band, it’s Dani who’s always steered the good ship Cradle, injecting a gothic, romantic edge into the band, not to mention a uniquely British sense of humour alongside the Hammer Horror-style macabre, becoming an icon in his own right. Even the band’s infamous ‘Jesus Is A C**t’ line of shirts was born of a sense of humour, different from the stony-faced, blasphemous image many of their peers favoured.
Not that it’s been an easy road. Dani has regularly found himself in a position of being ‘The Man You Love To Hate’, often thanks to controversial statements in the press (again, usually starting out as him taking the piss). One departing ex-bandmate unceremoniously called him “a nasty little midget”, while the more elite factions of black metal have bitten their thumbs at Cradle for daring to dream of success, and actually achieving it.
But then, in 2020 the man still finds himself receiving the adulation of a new generation, not least Bring Me The Horizon, with whom he performed in full corpsepaint at All Points East festival in May last summer. Following a reissue and live celebration of their awesome third album Cruelty And The Beast last year, Dani remains a man who can still surprise…
How did you get into metal? Growing up in Suffolk in the ‘80s can’t have been much of a hotbed of heaviness.
“Actually, you’re wrong! I mean, it wasn’t a hotbed of metal, but it was a flowerbed. The Ipswich Gaumont, now the Regent, put Ipswich on the map. The first show I ever saw was there – Ozzy Osbourne on the Ultimate Sin tour. I saw Twisted Sister there, Ratt, Saxon, Motörhead, Bon Jovi. There used to be amazing grindcore festivals in Ipswich around then as well, where it would literally be all the bands you could name on one bill – Carcass, Bolt Thrower, Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, Deviated Instinct. It was amazing. I remember trying to get a copy of Hell Awaits by Slayer, and my dad had to order a copy from Debenhams, of all places. It took four months to come, and it had a chip out of it, so it had to be re-ordered. In the end it took about a year to get it – through Debenhams!”
When did you start playing music?
“My friend got me into metal. I was into ‘dark’ stuff – well, dark for the charts – like Gary Numan and Ultravox, and then I got totally hooked on metal. I think that went hand-in-hand with being into dinosaurs and monsters growing up, and then horror movies. There were loads of satellite villages around where we lived, so it wasn’t that hard to do a band. I think I went through about six before we started Cradle, though.”
You were working towards being a journalist, weren’t you?
“Well, I wasn’t working hard towards being a journalist. I didn’t get very far. You know when you’re at school and they send you out on work experience? I went to the paper shop, where I already worked as a paper boy. I was going to do an apprenticeship at East Anglian Daily Times, but then, as with most things in my life, I thought, ‘Fuck it. I’m gonna try this, give it a year and if it works, carry on.’ Paul Ryan, who I started the band with, worked in a music shop, so he was alright financially. I thought, ‘I’ll go on the dole.’ He had a PA and a car ‘cause he had money, and we did three demos that first year, and it just kept on rolling. We got approached by labels, album plans came up, and it went from there.”
Were you into the occult and Satanism for real or was that all part of the image?
“That was a very real thing for me, probably a bit more than most. For a long time I got into the whole satanic doctrine, I read so many books on the subject. There was a period of time between about ‘93 to ’98 where I was buying pamphlets from weird occult places. I’ve still got them all. Now, you can buy all of that online. The stuff produced by [occult group] The Order Of Nine Angles, for example, that’s all been collated and released as books you can buy on Amazon. But that was genuinely underground, esoteric occult stuff. Esoteric mysticism isn’t so esoteric anymore. I think that’s partly why the black metal scene has lost a lot of its intrigue. You can just find out about stuff. I remember I had a shirt with [notorious Burzum frontman] Varg Vikernes on the back, where he was towering over you. It looked really vampyric and had a real mysticism about it. Now you know everything about him, so you just think he’s a bit of a twat.”
You were in contact with the Norwegian scene back then, right?
“I used to write to [late Mayhem guitarist] Euronymous a lot. Back then it was all about tape trading. I remember going down to the post office in my village to send tapes, or get them back in. That’s how people got known, how word of mouth worked. A few people had mobile phones, but you had to carry the battery pack around on a skateboard! A lot of the time you had to do interviews in a public phone box. You’d be in there for, like, an hour and spend about eight quid!”
You did an early tour with Emperor, which happened between their drummer Faust killing a man and getting arrested for it…
“Yeah, and he was telling everyone about it because he was very drunk. Being from Norway, the idea of being able to buy – or being given – a bottle of Jack Daniel’s was way over their heads, because back then that would have been a week’s wages in Norway. So they were constantly pissed, and that was when he told me all about it.”
What did you think when he told you he’d killed someone?
“I didn’t really know what to think about it. I thought it was him being a bit colourful, but then a few weeks later I found out it was true. I felt a bit implicit, like, ‘Should I have gone to the police?’ But then, I didn’t believe him.”
You were the most visible black metal band back then. What was your relationship with the press like in the beginning?
“Well, I remember going into Kerrang!’s old office in Carnaby Street, and then-editor Geoff Barton being really obnoxious, to the point where we had a scuffle and I pushed him over a desk. He said, ‘You’ll never be in Kerrang! again!’ So, our label manager at the time got some black lipstick and drew a satanic symbol on the office door. Geoff then called Scotland Yard! Next day I had to appear in Regent’s Park police station, and they got this enormous dossier out and banged it on the table in front of me. It was full of stuff on Burzum, Immortal – they knew it all. They had loads of real underground shit in there, zines and things – I was actually impressed. But they were monitoring what was going on.”
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Did that freak you out?
“It did. A lot. And loads of people were funny about it. Colchester Gazette wanted to do something on us, and then pulled it, for example.”
Tell us about the origin of the phrase ‘Jesus is a c**t’…
“We were preparing stuff for the Emperor tour on the front lawn of our then-label manager’s mum’s house. We were larking around and came out with it, and it made us piss ourselves laughing. I remember lying on the grass laughing our tits off going, ‘We’ve got to do this.’ It wasn’t from a satanic perspective, though, it was more of an anarchic statement. We knew it would piss people off. I think Jesus just got picked on because he was archetypal. It could have been Hitler, but it doesn’t really work because everyone already thinks Hitler’s a c**t, so it’s not as funny.”
How quickly did it start causing grief?
“I remember when we had them printed up, my girlfriend – who was actually on the front of the original ones – worked for a printing company and they refused to do it. When they found out she printed a few off out the back door she got in so much trouble. So, we found a place in an even smaller village where we had to go round the back, get the shirts, and a, ‘Never speak of this again’ from the guy doing it.”
Fan Rob Kenyon faced proper legal troubles after he got nicked under blasphemy laws for wearing one in the street. Did you feel like you had a responsibility to stick by him?
“Yeah, absolutely. I wouldn’t wear it these days, though. I did loads back then. But now, at the tender age of 46, I don’t think it’s apt. Plus, I don’t like the idea of kids seeing it. I don’t care if people are offended, but I don’t want to corrupt minds before it’s their time.”
Did it seem weird when you were asked to appear on Never Mind The Buzzcocks and being written about in The Face?
“A bit. But we’ve always been very ambitious. We’re one of these bands who always made sure we lived up to it musically, but we’d also try to do something outside the box and bigger than maybe we ‘should’ have.”
What did you think of people who said you’d sold out?
“We have massive aspirations, and I dare anyone who starts a band to say they don’t have an aspiration, or a picture of themselves in their mind, to do something massive. You don’t imagine playing in front of two people. You imagine Wacken. And we’ve done that. We knew we’d never be as big as Metallica, but we had aspirations, and we’ve played in stadiums and massive festivals and stuff. We pushed it as far as it could go, which was just a lot further than some people thought it could go.”
You were on the cover of Kerrang! a lot. Again, not really something you might have imagined for a black metal band…
“Yeah. I remember our old A&R guy, Doug, was the best A&R guy ever. In his office, he had 70 magazine covers up at one point, and it was all us, around the Cruelty And The Beast album. He took real pride in telling everyone that.”
There was an element of you as ‘The Bad Guy’ in the press…
“Yeah, and it got me in grief with a lot of people: Lemmy, Dave Mustaine. Whenever you needed someone to be contentious about something, I was on the phone. I fell out with Lemmy then we made up. I fell out with Dave Mustaine and we made up – all over comments and shit.”
There was one interview where you mused on the benefits of enforced population control, though. Looking back, do you stand by all of your comments, or were you just trying to be controversial?
“(Laughs) Well, you couldn’t get away with saying some of the things we did back then now! But we just spoke our mind. We didn’t give a fuck. We literally didn’t. I do honestly think the band might have become a lot bigger if we hadn’t made some of the comments we did, or take the stances we did. We were pretty pig-headed, but we stuck to our guns. If we liked something, we’d say. If we hated something or we were pissed off, we’d tell people. They were good times.”
Do you think that added to your mystique?
“Some people say it added to the mystique. Other people thought we’d blown it. Black metal’s supposed to be about Satanism, it’s supposed to be elitist and underground, and about doing what you want. We just tried to be ourselves. Yeah, we made mistakes, but it was also something that should be taken tongue-in-cheek. We were serious about the music and what we were doing, though.”
Unlike a lot of black metal bands, you always had a very British, Carry On-style sense of humour, albeit a very dark one…
“I know, but I used to hate people saying that. I love Carry On, and in fact all of that British film stuff, Pinewood Studios and all that. We actually filmed a video there, and it was amazing, being where they made James Bond and Hammer Horror and all that. That was us.”
You’ve become an influence beyond black metal. You even featured on Bring Me The Horizon’s latest album amo, and played with them at their show at All Points East…
“Yeah, Oli [Sykes,] grew up on bands like Cradle and Death. Apparently he had an enormous poster of Leprosy in his front room. The Death album, not actual leprosy – that would be disgusting.”
What was All Points East like?
“I went from Rio to London, on no sleep, just to do the gig. Everyone in Bring Me The Horizon was super nice. It was the biggest show of their lives, and afterwards they were coming up to me saying, ‘Thanks for coming, you really made our day.’ I took my daughter and her friend, and afterwards we were waiting for a cab to take us to our hotel, and I was still in full make-up, because it’s basically lacquered on and you need to have a proper shower to get rid of it. People were coming past in cars, stopping to take pictures and going, ‘You’re a fucking legend!’ And these weren’t even metallers, these were people from the festival. I was completely overwhelmed by it all, because normally it’s a complete piss-take!”
After nearly 30 years, Cradle are still a successful band. Which is surprising given that there was no template for a black metal band to do well…
“Yeah, and our ambition to have that pissed people off! They thought we were selling out. But they can see it as a career now, in hindsight. So, yeah, cheers for that!”
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