Devilfire are a feisty rock act from Birmingham who have been making waves on the UK scene for a few years now. Some may know band founder Alex Cooper from his days behind the kit with Hanging Doll. Gary Trueman chatted to Alex about latest record ‘Live In Birmingham, making the move from drums to vocals and getting a new perspective by fronting a band.
Let’s start with the new record Live In Birmingham. When and where was it recorded? Presumably you chose to record it in Birmingham as this would have been a home town gig, so the vibe would be that bit extra special. Was that the idea?
“It was recorded at a venue called The Crossing in Digbeth, late 2018. This is one of the hidden gems in Birmingham because it’s almost a theatre size venue in the middle of Birmingham that isn’t particularly well known. The ‘Live in Birmingham’ album, although being very much a live album, sadly wasn’t recorded from a gig. This is why there is no crowd noise on the record. It was actually an idea that our manager came up with at the time to live stream an entire gig just over Facebook. An idea that now after 2020 is more commonplace but it seemed pretty wacky back then. We had some shows coming up with Wolfsbane and it seemed like we could kill 3 birds with one stone.
With a lot of credit going out to the people involved it was a resounding success, but it hasn’t seen the light of day until now because in all honesty the sheer amount of work to mix and edit all of the video and audio just wasn’t a priority. At the time we were gigging heavily and we had started work on Black Soul Vendetta which really took precedence over ‘Live in Birmingham’ as it came to be.”
The quality of the album is pretty astonishing. It has all hallmarks of the great live works of the past, clarity and that feeling you’re there warmth. You hear so many records that are either a bit too clinical or more often sound like they were recorded on a phone. What was the recording process for Live In Birmingham? And critically what did you add or take away in post production?
“It really was just literally what we got on the day, process wise we sound checked all levels in the morning which took a good 4 hours making sure all of the signals from the instruments were correct. We had some lunch (drugs/alchohol – only kidding, it’s not the 80’s sadly) and then we came back, had a warm up and we rolled it like it was a gig. The stage is so big we could get great instrument separation for recording but on the evening we had the lights going to make it feel as much like a gig as we could. This of course was great practice for the upcoming shows we had. Post production wise it’s pretty much how it came off the tape. I didn’t want to over do anything and keep it as real to a gig as I could . This is so it would be as close to being at a Devilfire gig as can be.”
We’re all missing being at gigs right now so this was a great time to release this record. It’s a great reminder of what we can look forward to once things return to some level of normality. What made you decide to release this at this point in the year? Was it an easy decision?
“To be honest I didn’t want to release it, I know that’s bad to say but I’m a big believer in live is live and the record is the record, that they can and should always be a little different. That’s probably why it wasn’t released after Dark Manoeuvres. However with 2020 being what it is, I had time to mix it well and get happy with it. A few people have said that Devilfire sound a lot heavier in the flesh than we do on record so I wanted that to go down on record. Plus as there are no gigs and we’re all badly missing them it seemed silly to have it just sitting on the shelf.”
How have you been coping with the lockdown situation and the lack of playing to an audience? How have you coped? Have the rest of the band been coping OK? Have you had any opportunities to interact with them at all?
“I love gigs don’t get me wrong but I’ve always been a studio bum. I love creating new music and find it easy to lock myself away. That being said 8-9 months on even someone like me means I’m dying to get out and play again. After the first lockdown I had a few days to get CDs signed by the guys so I did a trip around the houses. Everyone seems to be in good spirits although I’m sure by now cabin fever is kicking in. I think i can collectively say we all just desperately want to get out and gig our new album.”
What are your plans for Devilfire for 2021? Are you taking bookings yet or playing more of a waiting game to see how things pan out?
“We’ve got stuff in the diary, but it’s an ever changing situation at the moment due to our ever changing peers. Any plans we had to tour ‘Black Soul Vendetta’ have all but gone out of the window sadly.”
Going back in time a little you once played drums for a band called Hanging Doll. What made you decide to front a band instead? Do you still drum at all?
“Hanging Doll was a great band but I just wanted something for myself. My songs done my way, I know it’s selfish but I did 13 years in a democracy and I just needed a bit of creative freedom to write what I wanted to write. I knew sadly that if I wanted it to be mine I had to be the singer and I had to find my voice, that’s probably why Devilfire is so important to me. A big self discovery trip.”
How do you get on with Devilfire drummer Lars Wickett? Do you think he feels any extra pressure knowing you can play? Or do you share a bit of a unique understanding?
“Well, first of all he’s always been a far better drummer than me, but it’s a very unique relationship because we both speak drums. I’m sure some of the other band members look at each other as if to say “do you get what they’re on about? I’m sure Lars will agree there are times when I can be restrictive when I want things done a certain way, but there are other times when I’ll just say “look buddy can you just go mad here and surprise me” and he always does. The drum work on BSV was incredible, but what I always think is the sign of a great musician is when they know when not to overplay & Lars always plays for the song.”
We all know the reputation vocalists have when it comes to loading in and out. And the drummer has the most kit to shift generally. When you switched did that alter your perspective on things at all?
“I’m sure Baz will say I’m still crap at loading out but I do try as much as I can to help out hahaha Switching to vocals is probably the most difficult thing I’ve done as a musician and the respect that vocalists have in my eyes has increased sevenfold. It’s an art and vocation, you have to dedicate time to it and to be honest I wish I could dedicate more. I love drums but with vocals there is no safe place, you’re out there on the edge and you cannot make a wrong move or it sounds horrid. So I guess to answer your question my perspective was changed almost immediately when I switched.”
You have a great voice, it’s crystal clear at all times. Do you do anything to look after it like warming up before shows or are you a fags and whiskey kind of guy?
“I tend to try and push myself as much as I can and be as clear as I can be whilst still being powerful on record. So it can be a bit of a vocal workout when it comes to replicating that live. I do warm up and sadly not by gargling whiskey hahaha. When I can (venue permitting) I try to get at least half an hour warming into the songs. Otherwise you end up blowing your throat out, especially if you’re not able to get a lot of fold back. Maybe a whiskey just before to warm the throat and kill the butterflies.”
We’ve seen a lot of smaller venues struggling at the moment, we’ve lost quite a few already. Do you fear for what the music landscape will look like when gigs start up again?
“It’s not looking good is it, it’s hard to say what will happen and what the landscape will look like. My heart is with every single venue in the country fighting this at the moment. I worked at a venue for many years so I know this must be devastating.”
Have there been any positives to the pandemic? We know some people have said they’re thriving working from home. And nature has had a boost in some areas. Has the fallout from Covid taught us anything do you think, and will we learn from that?
“I think Covid has taught us to value what we have. Hopefully the venues and pubs will be chocka for a long time after this. Personally I think we’ve got a bit too dependent on the internet for our entertainment, you can’t beat the blood, sweat and tears of a night on the tiles after seeing a gig! What will be interesting is if in 2 years bands are still in pubs playing to 4 people, whilst the majority of the population of Britain is back on the sofa with a takeaway curry ordering from Amazon. Only time will tell.”
Is music your all consuming passion or do you have another outlet? Do you have any hobbies or anything you do that isn’t music related?
“I absolutely love films!!! I’m a big film guy, it’s my only release and escape. I live, work and breathe music so it’s a big welcome break.”
You’re very firmly a rock artist. The dividing lines between the genres is blurring so much these days though, music is more of a spectrum. So what and who do you listen to? Anything you think might surprise people?
“Obviously I listen to all types of rock. A few guilty pleasures though, I love 70’s and 80s pop (ABBA/Manilow/Bowie) At the moment I’ve been listening to a lot of the 60’s girl groups, this is something I got from my mum. I used to come down on a Saturday morning and mum would have Diana Ross & The Supremes on blaring from the massive vinyl collection in the house. Both my mum and dad were both big music fans so I got a big spectrum even before I found my own way.”
What three items would someone need to place in a magic circle to summon you and why are those items so important you’d have no choice but to appear?
Interview by Gary Trueman