James Acaster Interviews Raging Speedhorn
If there’s one thing James Acaster loves, it’s music. His book (and subsequent podcast) Perfect Sound Whatever explores his relationship with music from 2016 in particular, across the widest possible spectrum of genres – from drone folk to Japanese indie-jazz fusion. Speaking to Kerrang! last year, he discussed his love of metal and heavy music, paying particular attention to his local heroes Raging Speedhorn and their 2016 album Lost Ritual.
Growing up in Kettering, James saw Speedhorn (from nearby Corby) a lot in his teenage years, from playing gigs in dive bars to jam nights to Ozzfest at Milton Keynes Bowl. He’d listen to their albums, read about them in Kerrang! magazine and watch their videos on Kerrang! TV. In short, he is a big fan and has been for most of the band’s 22-year career. So, with a new Speedhorn album just around the corner, we thought we’d get James on a Zoom call with frontman and co-founder Frank Regan to reminisce about their local metal scene, Speedhorn’s overnight success, Viking Skull and much more.
Here it goes…
James: If I’m interviewing a band or someone in a band, I wouldn’t ask about how they formed and stuff because I’d think that was boring – or I’d think that they’d think it was boring. But I grew up in Kettering where it was easy forming bands, but it was hard getting anywhere, getting signed… So when you guys got a record deal and were gonna launch an album, it was really exciting for all the other musicians locally that that was happening. I know you’re not good with compliments because you’re from Corby, I’m from Kettering, and in that area we’re very bad at taking compliments.
Frank: “If our mate hadn’t been mates with Dave Bianchi who worked in London at a record company we wouldn’t have got a record deal. It was only because of who we knew. We’d only played a couple of gigs, I think we played a Battle Of The Bands once and that was it – nobody knew what was going on, they didn’t know what we were up to.”
James: That’s what was mad about it. I didn’t know who you guys were until you were on a Kerrang! CD and it was like, ‘Oh there’s this band from Corby,’ and I was so surprised that I hadn’t heard of you before. So was it that quick that you had a couple of gigs and then got signed?
Frank: “Basically, we were in another band and my best mate shagged my girlfriend so we split up and started Speedhorn within the next week, and it went from there. We’d been doing gigs as a band called Soul Seller. We did a gig at Dexters, under Kettering train station, a couple of times. I think our fourth gig was supporting Ministry at the Astoria (laughs).”
James: What was that like?
Frank: “It was six teenagers onstage in front of some headlights being ran over. It was fucking horrible; we were shit that night. We were chucked in at the deep end.”
James: Do you get quite nostalgic thinking back to those days? I get quite nostalgic thinking about Speedhorn in the early days because of how much it meant to me as a local boy who wanted to do similar stuff with his life. And so there were little markers for me that were exciting: seeing you on a free CD of a magazine that I always bought was weirdly exciting for me. Seeing The Gush on Kerrang! TV was really exciting.
Frank: “But there was a scene for that then. Kettering and Corby had quite a good music scene. Everyone was in bands and everyone knew everybody, and everybody was in the same band with everybody else. But there was places to play, pubs to go to, we used to have Kenny’s Dead and all the rock nights, that sort of thing. But there’s none of that now, it’s different. It was still quite primitive then, I suppose. You had to go out and play, you couldn’t just play Corby and Kettering, you had to get out there.”
James: I’m gonna go through all the little moments for me that were exciting. When The Gush was on Kerrang!, was that a big moment for you? For us, watching it, it was exciting to see a local band on this channel that we watched all the time. And there’s a moment in the video where it cuts between all of your faces. I bet you guys weren’t a fan of that, but for local boys who wanted to do the same thing, that moment in the video is like, ‘We’re here, we did it!’
Frank: “I think we did the video in Soho at some strip club. Proper big budget – there was catering and all that. We’re there, six idiots, like, ‘What’s going on?’ We’d done Knives And Faces before that, but with this one they were trying to push us to the Top 40. And I think it’s as close as we’re ever gonna get to it! We nearly made it, I think, but they only released 5,000 singles at the time. I don’t think you need to sell as much to get in the Top 40 now. There’s a night-time version [of the video] where the girl pisses on that guy’s face as well (laughs).”
James: When you did Ozzfest in 2001, I saw you there, but I went to see you do a warm-up beforehand. And it didn’t feel safe! I loved going to metal gigs but – and this won’t be a surprise to anyone – I didn’t like getting punched and kicked. But I wanted to be as close to the front as I could, so I’d always be on the outside of whatever pit was being started, and then some angry local who wanted to take things out on everybody else would get in the pit and I’d be very scared. But I went to Ozzfest and instantly lost all of my friends and ran to the main stage because that’s where I wanted to be all day, but I didn’t realise other people don’t do that at festivals, so the people I’d gone with I’d now been separated from, and you guys were the first band on I think.
Frank: “Yeah we were. There’s a video of it on YouTube – what a fucking thing that was… The record company brought all our mums and dads, it was well embarrassing (laughs).”
James: Talk to me about the day.
Frank: “It was like we’d normally do: just turn up to the dressing room and get on it. The record company brought our mums and dads and they were sitting in the hospitality bit with Sharon Osbourne and all that, but we weren’t into that. We actually came up the night before and Sabbath were soundchecking, and we sat in the Bowl and watched them soundcheck. That was pretty cool. Ozzy came running out into the middle of the Bowl to have a listen (laughs).”
James: The characters I’d like to know if you ran into backstage are basically anyone from Tool and Casey Chaos.
Frank: “We went on tour with Amen loads of times. It was fucking nuts. They’re one of the best bands I’ve ever seen live for the sheer chaos and things going flying. They had two or three guys at the side of stage just rebuilding cymbal stands and taping stuff back together while the drummer plays with one stick and a snare drum. It was ace.”
James: You must have had moments like that onstage, though. You must have bled onstage.
Frank: “Yeah, all sorts of stuff. I fell offstage in Sweden one night. The lights went out, and there was a bit of stage that jutted out the front, I took a step back and fell straight down the side of the stage. The lights came up and it was like, ‘Where the fuck’s Frank gone?’ I hit the barrier on my side, I got up and it was all black and blue, the band just pissed themselves laughing and carried on playing. I was in fucking agony (laughs).”
James: Me and my friend Jake – which is how all my teenage stories start – were in Kettering town centre, we bumped into Darren [Smith, bassist]. We knew who he was, but he didn’t know us, and he was walking around Kettering by himself late at night trying to find some weed. My friend Jake had some and Darren was like, ‘Come with me.’ We went with him onto your tour bus which was parked in the Rock And Bowl carpark. For the reader, Rock And Bowl was a bowling alley in Kettering, I think it’s now called New York Thunderbowl. So we went there, I didn’t smoke weed but I think Jake did with everyone, and I talked to Darren for a while about [psych-rock band] Zen Guerrilla, then me and Jake went home. It didn’t strike me as weird at the time, but now that I’m a touring comedian and I know how being on the road works. I’m going to ask you, why was your tour bus parked 10 minutes from where you all lived?
Frank: “(Laughs) It might have been because we didn’t want to go home. It might have been a night off, I can’t remember. I remember getting back off tour and a double-decker tour bus would just drop us off at our mates’ flat, it was surreal. I don’t know why that was in Rock And Bowl, probably a night off. And Darren walking around the streets trying to find weed? Sounds like him. Definitely talking about Zen Guerrilla.”
James: I’d mainly see you in Kettering at the jam night in Poppy’s Social Club or Sawyer’s. And I think – and this is me checking to see if my memory is true to fact or it’s a story I’ve written over the years – but in my mind, Viking Skull formed at the jam night.
Frank: “Yeah, kind of. We’d done one jam in Corby and then we’d go over there because you’d get a couple of pints for free if you got up and played, so that’s what we used to do (laughs).”
James: I’d go down to the jam night to try and get on the drums. I’d always want to go on with people who were my age, but I’d always get put on with the older guys, and they’d be playing songs that were classics but I didn’t know and I’d have to try and figure out what to play. And because I was 15, I’d always play the wrong thing to it – the worst being when I played a disco beat to All Along The Watchtower and they absolutely kicked off at me. But was it because of these jam nights that you started playing more bluesy songs and thought you could do it on the side?
Frank: “It was just something for fun, really. I think we had a bit of time off so we went down and had a jam and started doing Viking Skull, it just kind of happened. I remember we were trying to come up with a name and our bass player said we should be called Less Than Ten and my mate hung up on him like, ‘No way! We’re going to be called Viking Skull.’”
James: Less Than Ten sounds too much like Less Than Jake and it’s got a number in it so that sounds too emo. But did you expect Viking Skull to start popping up in magazines and stuff?
Frank: “No, it was quite weird, really. It was lucky to get another shot at it. We got to do some cool tours, we did a tour with Dio, a HIM tour, then when I quit that’s when Jess [Margera] from CKY got involved and he started playing drums and they went to record a couple of records at Bam’s house on their record label. Then I joined back, we went to do another record… We were always falling out and making back up and that was it.”
James: Did that open you up to gigging with other bands that Speedhorn maybe wouldn’t be on the bill with?
Frank: “We did a gig with Alice Cooper at Hammersmith Apollo, which was crazy. It was like, ‘What are we doing here?! This is real stuff.’ Places you don’t think you’re ever gonna be.”
James: Lost Ritual is my favourite Speedhorn album. I did this stupid project where I was buying loads of music from one year because I had a breakdown, so I tried to buy as much music from 2016 as I could. I was searching for local bands and saw you guys had done an album and it was exactly how I always wanted one of your albums to sound. Was there anything different recording it when going into the studio?
Frank: “When we write songs and albums it’s just organised chaos, really. A lot of the lyrics for Lost Ritual were written as we were recording the songs. All of it was done fresh, all of the songs were written without being played live, we just went straight to the studio. But it was probably working with Russ Russell that made it more relaxed and getting better sounds. We were a lot older by then. At first we were relying on other people, kind of winging it, but we were men then rather than kids and we knew what we wanted. But as far as the writing and music goes, it was done last minute like, ‘Oh shit we’re in the studio tomorrow, we better finish those four songs we’ve written.’”
James: I once waited outside of the The Raj in Kettering for about an hour because Russ Russell and Shane from Napalm Death had gone in there. They were having a curry, I was waiting outside with my friend Debbie, and they came out and we got them to sign our issue of Kerrang! because I think Napalm Death were on the cover that week or something. Also I knew who [’90s industrial outfit] Meathook Seed were so I got Russ to sign it as well. I’ve never seen two people laugh so much while they write something before.
Frank: “They were working on the new Napalm Death record while we were in there working on [new album, Hard To Kill]. He was mixing new Machine Head as well. Russ does all sorts, he’s a talented man.”
James: Being in a band now, does it feel like more stable and you know what you’re doing, and less of a whirlwind than when you started out?
Frank: “It’s an expensive hobby at this point. We get to go on tour and get away from work for a bit, have a laugh with my mates. It’s more fun travelling than doing the gigs at some points because you never know where you’re going to end up. You go on tour, do a gig, next thing you’re in a bar somewhere or at a party. It’s enjoyable, but [COVID] has fucked it. Online stuff just isn’t in the same. There’s no feeling. I’m gutted.”
James: That’s all the questions I’ve got, but Corey Taylor says, ‘Hello.’ I interviewed him for a podcast and he said to say hello to you. It was a food podcast and we went on a long tangent about naming all of his toilets after Clutch albums. We discovered that every Clutch album sounds like the name for a toilet.
Frank: “From Beale Street To Oblivion.”
James: There you go!
Raging Speedhorn’s new album Hard To Kill is out October 23 via Red Weed Records.
James Acaster’s Perfect Sounds podcast is available now via BBC Sounds and the usual podcast services.
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