“When I was writing the lyrics and melodies… it was not a pleasant time whatsoever. It’s an honest record; I was writing about what I was going through.” Looking pensive and taking a long drag on his hand-rolled cigarette, Steven Dobb, lead vocalist and guitarist with The Hyena Kill recalls the writing process of A Disconnect, his band’s stunning new album that has exploded amidst a flurry of rave reviews and fan adoration. Following a slew of EPs and a well-received debut, A Disconnect finds The Hyena Kill’s sound at its most fleshed out, with the addition of Charlie Seisay on bass and Sam Jones on guitar/keys bringing a cinematic scope to their emotive and ethereal sound. The response to the album has been nothing short of spectacular, with critics and fans alike comparing A Disconnect to such legendary bands as Nirvana, Deftones and The Smashing Pumpkins. A few days prior to the release of the album, Astral Noize spoke to Dobb to discuss the band’s journey to this point, the writing process of A Disconnect and just how it feels to see such personal work resonate with a large audience.
“It’s the music me and Lorna [Blundell, Drums] always wanted to make,” beams Dobb, describing how he feels about the sound the band have captured on A Disconnect. Formed in 2012, initially as a duo consisting of Dobb and Blundell, The Hyena Kill have now ended up as a four piece, almost by accident, as a result of the approach they took to writing ‘Cauterised’, one of the new album’s standout tracks. “We thought we were done with The Hyena Kill,” explains Dobb. “But we had this one song, ‘Cauterised’, just knocking around, just these four chords which we thought sounded pretty cool, but we felt there was something missing. So we thought, why don’t we just go into the studio, record this one last song, let’s get some friends in, flesh it out and have some fun with it, kinda like a swansong. But once we got Sam and Charlie in we were like ‘shit’, then we wrote some more songs and thought we better get in the studio. It was a complete accident! We go back with both of them [Charlie and Sam] a long way, we never even considered anyone else and luckily they were on board.”
Listening to A Disconnect now, easily the band’s most powerful and emotive work to date, it’s hard to imagine how close it came to simply not existing at all. It’s been quite a journey to get to this point. “It’s been like ten years since we first jammed,” says Dobb in disbelief, recalling how he and Blundell met. “I was in a band in Manchester, and me and Lorna moved in the same circles, both playing completely different types of music to each other. We were both just at a party this one time and there was an electric drum kit and a guitar, so we both had a little jam and both realised we wanted to write something completely different to what we were doing in our own bands, and we both thought we should get a proper practice room, so we did. We just got in a room together and thought ‘this is fucking awesome’ and that’s how it was born and we just carried on.”
Music was a part of Dobb’s life from an early age, so it almost seems inevitable that he would end up creating his own. “It was always around when I was growing up,” he explains. “My Mum and Dad were big rock fans, you know – Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd. The first band that really affected me was Nirvana. They got into my psyche. Then of course The Smashing Pumpkins, all the grunge music, I just fucking loved it. I just dived straight in, I loved it all.” These influences can be heard littered throughout A Disconnect, but unlike the many copyists that followed the grunge movement, The Hyena Kill channel them into something new and fresh sounding, never once sounding derivative.
With the creative juices clearly flowing from the ‘Cauterised’ sessions, the band continued to write at their own pace, letting their sound evolve gradually and being careful not to force anything. “It took a while to write,” admits Dobb. “It then took a year to record, so I’d be lying if I said it was a quick process, but it was just so organic and natural.” This patient approach has clearly worked, resulting in an emotionally rich record that sounds meticulously thought out without sounding laboured. “We’ve always had a huge guitar sound,” continues Dobb. “But when Charlie and Sam came on board they just filled out so much space that we weren’t able to do before. Their songwriting ability and musicality is fantastic. They’re just amazing musicians, they’ve just slotted in perfectly.” The pulsating basslines of Seisay weave effortlessly with Blundell’s powerful drum work, and Jones’ riffs and atmospheric guitarwork bolster Dobb’s even further, creating a full and immersive sound that’s all their own.
When it came time to write lyrics for the album, Dobb found himself in quite a dark period of his life, using the writing process as a form of catharsis. “Half the time I was thinking ‘no-one’s ever going to hear this anyway’,” the songwriter admits. “I didn’t pay any attention to what the audience was going to be, so it allowed me to be a lot more candid.” It’s likely this approach that has led the album to resonate with so many people, we suggest. “I think probably yes,” he agrees. “Because I’ve been more cryptic in the past, lyrically. There’s more straightforward lines in a lot of these songs, so you can kind of relate to it a bit more.”
Writing so open and honestly does, however, come with a price, bringing with it difficult emotions. “I’ve always found writing easy, it’s my form of expression. It’s natural for me to do that, it’s my creative outlet, I don’t do any other type of art or painting, I’ve always expressed myself through my guitar and lyrics…” he pauses, thinking back. “It’s quite painful when you start writing stuff like that, quite unpleasant. When you listen back, it’s quite cathartic, definitely. It’s not until later, when I listen back that I can see it’s taken on a different meaning to what I originally intended, which is nice, because it means it’s not as linear and people can interpret it in different ways.”
This candid approach is likely a key part of what has seen the album strike a chord with a growing audience, but more listeners means more eyes and ears bearing witness to some intimate lyrics. “It was a little bit overwhelming,” Dobb admits. “We’re such a tiny band and it’s nice when people react so positively, or someone says they’ve reacted to a certain song in some way. Because that’s what music’s for. If it does that, it’s done it’s job. I can’t count the amount of records I’ve analysed to death. That’s the beautiful thing about music; if something speaks to you and you pull it to pieces, that’s great.”
With The Hyena Kill now a solid, unified four-piece, Dobb is keen to keep things this way and not deviate from the collaborative process that is clearly working, having resulted in A Disconnect. “We co-wrote the whole album musically,” enthuses the vocalist. “Everyone has their own parts on there. It wasn’t like me and Lorna wrote it then brought Charlie and Sam in. It wouldn’t have worked that way, it was just so natural.”
Dobb is also keen to emphasise how important their producer, Andy Hawkins, was in the whole process. “A Lot of credit has to go to Andy,” he says. “We’ve worked with him a lot over the years. The one thing that was really freeing about making this record was that we didn’t put any restraints on ourselves. Whatever happens, happens. A lot of the production decisions, I just said to Andy, ‘we’ll play the part, you get involved and help us make the decisions’. I wasn’t too precious about anything, it was just so freeing and made it a better creative experience. Whatever creative part you came up with, if you were buzzing about it, it stays. The decision-making was unanimous across the board. If something’s not working, we try something else. There was never any conflict.”
The passion Dobb exudes for the collaborative writing and recording process also extends to the album’s striking artwork, with the band once again choosing to go with their friend Ben Tallon. “He gets where we’re coming from,” explains Dobb. “His work is raw and honest, it’s so striking. There’s just little bits I’ll see and think ‘that’s awesome’. It’s important that if you’re going to put something out there, something you love, then once when you tie the artwork to the music, they go hand in hand as one.” Smiling to himself as he rolls another cigarette, Dobb adds, “It really reflects his personality too, because he’s such a proper sound guy. He’s got a dark, twisted sense of humour too and that little spark in him is what makes his art really special. He’s got some awesome stories too.”
With the release of A Disconnect going down so well, the band are now looking to their future, with plans of further writing and recording sessions as well as, fingers crossed, taking the album out on the road. “We’ve got ArcTanGent booked. That will be absolutely mental if that’s our first gig as a four-piece, but we’ll rise to the challenge, though there’s going to be a lot of stage rust. We used to have such a high octane set, the thought of having to do that again makes me feel a bit sick,” laughs Dobb. “It’s just so disappointing not to be able to tour this right now, but hopefully things will pop up soon.”
As for new material, Dobb confirms there are new ideas lying around. “We’ve already got some new songs kicking about. We’ll start putting these new tunes together too, keep the process going. It’s working, so while it is, we’ll just keep going at it. Again, what we learnt with this album is to just take our time, there’s no fucking rush. I’ve found the way I like to make records, and I know the rest of the band feel the same. It’s a laugh when we get together, a really pleasurable experience, even if you’re in a shit mood, you’re getting to hang out with your mates.”
So, as we wait for live shows to return, we get to spin our copies of A Disconnect, and lose ourselves in a truly emotive, individual and brooding piece of work that will no doubt be one of the highlights of 2021. Just as The Hyena Kill were about to call it a day, they found a new spark and created something unique, and through his writing Dobb has managed to turn some of his darkest moments into some of the most relatable music released this year. As he puts it himself, “It’s about emotions. So if somebody can feel something from something you’ve written, it’s done its job. Think of all the songs you’ve listened to in your life that just get to you, it’s an amazing thing.” With the way the songs on A Disconnect have resonated so powerfully, The Hyena Kill have achieved just that.
A Disconnect is out now via APF Records and can be purchased here.
Words: Adam Pegg