I recently had the very lucky opportunity to pose a few questions to Jason Mendonca from the London-based band Akercocke. For those not in the know (shame be upon you), Akercocke have been inflicting their own particular brand of brutality – often mixed with a very dark sense of humour upon this unworthy planet of ours – since around 1997.
They’d released five albums up until 2007 when they, for their own reasons I’m sure, decided to call it a day. A very sad day indeed. That was the end, and a lot of people out there felt the loss very deeply. Life went on – although at a far less exciting pace for the fans.
Roll on to 2016, and bugger me senseless with a giant packet of fish-sticks, Akercocke decided that maybe we were after all worthy of at least another show or two! They decided to re-unite, put out some more brilliance via a brand new song, tour the UK (you lucky, lucky bastards), and then make us wait until 2017 for a new album.
The new album was to be known as Renaissance in Extremis. Yep, and what a Renaissance it is. Enough backstory; let us cut to the chase, shall we?
Oh yeah, and for the readers information Akercocke consists of:
Jason Mendonca – Vocals and Guitar
David Grey – Drums
Paul Scanlan – Guitars
Michael Huk – Bass
Saves me having to explain it later okay. Good.
Overdrive: “Hi Jason, it is an honour to get to ask you a few questions from the Land Down Under. Having been a fan for quite some time I am also pretty damn happy that you guys decided to get back together after a ten-year hiatus. Now with that out of the way, bear with me and I’ll try to make this as painless as possible.”
Jason Mendonca (JM): 🙂
Overdrive: “I suppose the obvious first, and I’m sure you are sick of this one but after a break of about a decade what urge compelled you to suddenly reform the band and give it another crack?”
JM: “The need was great. The time was right. The protagonists found themselves with the relevant time to dedicate to the project once more. That time that before was lacking. We have always been of the mind-set that you give the project 100% or don’t bother. Circumstances meant that time was short before. Now there’s time to do it again. That’s the crux of it all really.”
Overdrive: “You and David Gray have been the backbone of the band since conception. Awesome to also see Paul Scanlan back in the mix, who for the unknowing was a part of the band in the early days, leaving around 2003. How did this come about, may I ask?”
JM: “Getting Paul back was essential. Dave and I have known him for decades. He is a musician that not only has that X-factor of an immediately recognisable style, but he’s also a prolific and accomplished writer. We are so happy to be working with our old-school bro once again.”
Overdrive: “The new bass player Nathanael Underwood seems to have a very apt name for a Bass player! He certainly brings some solid timber to bottom end of the band! How did you guys end up finding him, or had you already known him for some time?”
JM: “Nate has been a friend for donkey’s years. He was actually at the first Akercocke show! Nate was instrumental in bringing the band back together. He helped us out by stepping up to bass duties. Ultimately however, he is fully committed to his long term project Damim. He’s stepped away from Akercocke for now to concentrate on Damim. We have a new bass wizard called Michael Huk who like Nate, is also phenomenally talented.”
Overdrive: “Times have changed and the line-up has certainly changed over the years. How do you find yourselves getting along after the decade long Hiatus? Is it much easier with a bit of age and experience under the belt or do the same old cliques apply?”
JM: “Dude, it’s much easier. Hindsight, maturity and common goals make it a joy to be in this band right now. We are just old bogans, making a racket, making each other laugh and having a great time doing it.”
Overdrive: “As much as I love your older material, Renaissance in Extremis seems to me to be a far more approachable album for the average Metal Head. In no way shape or form am I suggesting that you have gotten any less extreme, I am just curious as to whether the song writing process has become a little different with time?”
JM: “More approachable? Interesting. I think perhaps it’s more tuneful over all maybe. The song writing MO hasn’t really changed that much. I suppose the key differences with the early albums was that most of the songs were created collectively in the studio. From “Words” onwards, the songs were sketched out by individual members and then honed by the band. That’s certainly the case with Renaissance.”
Overdrive: “You have been described as a lot of different Genres by many a person, and I for one am not a big fan of such labelling, unless you are a made of food products I don’t particularly read the ingredients, but may I ask how you would describe yourselves musically?”
JM: “Listen bro, I am with you all the way! I can’t be arsed with categorisation and sub-categorisation. I leave that for the geeks and folk with too much time on their hands. At the root, we play Heavy Metal.”
Overdrive: “I have often thought of your vocals to be the sound of a man in a lot of pain at times, almost tortured. You have a very distinct style, I can only think of a handful of people able to give such a delivery. Is this due to any particular reason or just the way you approach the whole project, or are you just Evil personified?”
JM: [Laughs] “I am certainly NOT Evil personified! Thank you for your kind words concerning the vocals. I don’t really know how to answer your question. I guess we all try our best at what we do. I never wanted to be the vocalist. I always just wanted to be a guitar player. The trouble was there wasn’t anyone else around at the time to do it so for reasons unknown, I ended up at the mic. I’ve come to enjoy it somewhat, particularly with this last album. None of us are trained. I guess practice and experience makes you a little more confident in what you do to facilitate experimentation. I wish I had the time and money for singing lessons. Whatever.”
Overdrive: “How has the reception been to the new stuff? Are you finding older fans doing what so many do these days, and saying it ain’t like the old days, or have they been embracing it?”
JM: “It’s been humbling. I think Akercocke fans are very open minded. If the responses on the last tour were anything to go by, they dig the ‘proggy’ stuff as much as the crazy, blasting madness of old. We are incredibly fortunate to have such dedicated fans who continue to inspire and encourage us on this sometimes surreal journey.”
Overdrive: “To continue the above line of questioning, do you think a lot of people tend to get stuck in a mindset that nothing new is good? I personally think they are missing out on so much good music. Your thoughts?”
JM: “Maybe? I think partially I am guilty of this. I love it when something new comes to my musical awareness. Maybe some of it is to do with leisure time or perhaps laziness. When it comes to Heavy Metal, I tend to listen to old stuff that is guaranteed to hit the spot. I think I lost faith because it seemed for a long time that all the new bands were rather derivative of the old masters. Sometimes I’ll be at a gig and see a band I’ve never heard of or perhaps a friend will say “check this out” and I get inspired. It’s a tough, if not impossible, call to retain an awareness of everything that is going on. There are so many good albums, books and films to see. I wish life could be longer to permit the enjoyment of all of them.”
Overdrive: “Renaissance in Extremis is an absolute cracker of an album, In my top ten of this year without a doubt. Hopefully we will hear some new tunes from you as soon as possible. Any plans you would like to share with us? Also, thanks for the chat Jason. A tour down here would also be an awesome thing and I’m sure you would be met with a great response. I appreciate your time!”
JM: “Thank you so much for your kind words. We are about to begin writing a new album this month. I am really looking forward to returning to the creative process with my bro’s and seeing what comes out next. Next year we hope for a European tour and a shed load of festivals to give more airings to the Renaissance material. A US and Aussie tour would be immense. Let’s see what offers come in 😉 Thank you for an engaging interview.”
So, there you have it, not only an absolute legend, Jason also used the word ‘Bogan,’ and I for one salute him for that!! Now all of you Aussie Promoters need to get on board and get these guys over here so we can all enjoy their own particular take on the Metal we all love.
As Jason previously stated, They play Heavy Metal, and a damn fine form of it – extreme Black, Progressive, Satanic Goat Rooting, Death Metal or however you want to approach Akercocke; they are back, and hopefully this time for a while longer.
Go and have a listen or may Beelzebub take a dump upon you.
RENAISSANCE IN EXTREMIS IS AVAILABLE NOW. STOP READING AND GO GET IT HERE!