Welcome to Rot: Swamp Coffin on Mental Health, Catharsis and a Viking Barbara Windsor

“When Flatcap Bastard Features came out I described it as a ‘horrible little twat of a baby’. Well, this new one is the nasty toddler that bites and sticks its thumbs in your eyes. It’s a little more advanced, more dangerous.” Jon Rhodes, vocalist and guitarist with Rotherham sludge trio Swamp Coffin, is discussing his band’s forthcoming full-length debut Noose Almighty, a snarling, NOLA-riff infused monster of an album that sees the band refine the crushing sound they produced on their debut EP to create something that is even richer, heavier and nastier.

Formed by Rhodes with his close friend David Wistow on drums back in 2016 as “a way of keeping two grownups out of trouble for a few hours a week”, the addition of (now ex) bassist Shawn Denton to the line-up led to the project becoming a serious concern with the crushing Flatcap Bastard Features EP being released in 2019. Since then, Denton has been replaced with Martyn White on bass and the band are set to unleash their incredible debut album Noose Almighty into the world this November. Ahead of its release, Astral Noize sat down to chat with Rhodes via Zoom to discuss music as catharsis, mental health issues and, er, Barbara Windsor dressed as a viking.

There’s been a line-up change in the band since you released your EP. How did this change come about?

It was just one of those things. People fall out, there were disagreements and artistic differences. But you know he’s [Denton] messaged me, he’s chuffed with what we’re doing now, and we’re playing with his band in December; it’s all good. It’s amicable, that’s the best way of putting it. When we were auditioning for bass players originally, literally a week after Shawn joined, Martyn, our new guy, messaged me saying “I didn’t know you were looking for a bass player” so when Shawn left he was the first person I messaged. I asked if he still wanted to do it and he just said “yeah”. I thought that was easy; absolutely painless.

At what point during the writing of Noose Almighty did Martyn join?

So the plan was, and this was 2019, we were going to record another EP in May 2020, another three or four songs, just something to tie us over until we did a full-length. Obviously Shawn left, so then all of a sudden you’re not only going to have to teach someone new songs, but also all the old songs too, for gigging. Some of the new songs were already written. ‘Jägerbombs Away’ was already written at that point, but it was a bit more bouncy. ‘Barbarian Windsor’ was written too, as were the bare bones of ‘Knuckledragger’. So he came in and we taught him all the older stuff and showed him the new ones bit by bit. 

So at what stage did you decide Noose Almighty was going to be a full-length album?

It soon became apparent that four songs wasn’t going to cut it. I do this thing where I listen back to them in my head and I was thinking “this doesn’t flow right, it needs an opener”. And originally, ‘Knuckledragger’ was going to finish the album, but it wasn’t quite there, it needed something nastier. So I literally wrote an opener and closer, and it was scary how quickly they came together. All the best albums have an opener and closer. So it needed something nasty to bookend it so we can go a bit mad in the middle, then go horrible again at the end.

There was definitely a method to it. It was just so obvious really early on that this wasn’t going to be just an EP, it had this flow to it and that’s how it came to this, it became an album. And six songs may seem short for an album, but it’s 40 minutes and it’s quite intense. Without sounding too cliché, it does go on a bit of a journey and I just think if you try and cram too much filler in, it just ends up taking away from it. It had to be those six songs. I mean, Yes put out an album with three songs, that’s always been my benchmark *laughs*.

Going back to the writing process, how are songs for Swamp Coffin conceived?

It’s always me and Dave [Wistow, drums]. We’ve been in bands together since we were sixteen. So I’ll come in with a riff and say “here you go” and he’ll work out the drums. We tend to do things like choruses and that on the fly, so I’ll be in the practice room getting an idea then see what Dave is feeling on drums and then we’ll just blag a verse and then it gets tweaked. It’s pretty organic, we bounce ideas off each other, then Martin comes in and fills the gaps in with his bass. 

You’ve once again chosen to work with producer Owen Claxton, who helped produce Flatcap Bastard Features. How pivotal is he in contributing to your sound?

What we tend to do is, when we go in to record, we’re 95% rehearsed, everything’s tight, we’ve practiced for months. But there’s that little 5% chaos and that’s where Owen comes in. Like the end to ‘Last Of The Summer Slime’ on the EP, we were going to do a fadeout and then Owen said, “Why not detune it over the space of five minutes?” and we were just like “fucking do it”. We were sat in the mixing room, me and Dave pissing ourselves because it was ridiculous but just sounded great. There’s 24 different guitar layers on the album’s title-track, it’s mad. He really gets us. He knows we want to be horrible, but he also knows it needs to sound good. We can’t sound black metal, like it was recorded in a basement. It’s raw but there’s a little bit of polish. We recorded Noose Almighty in just three days, strictly nine-to-five days too. That’s why if you’re absolutely nailed on with your parts, you do have time to put little extra bits on, like can I put some harmonies here, a pick scrape there. Even with the vocals, there’s two or three layers on there.

The album’s title-track, ‘Noose Almighty’, is musically a bit of a departure to the rest of the album, what can you tell us about this track and how it was written?

Let’s go back a bit. My house burning down, that partly inspired the Flatcap’ EP, that was 2018. So in November 2019, we thought “fuck it, we need a holiday”. I took the family to America. I’m on holiday, waiting for the shuttle bus to take us to Disney, and Bruce Almighty was on the TV and I just thought “Bruce Almighty? Noose Almighty”. I texted the other two, saying I’ve got a great idea, they both shot me down and I just said “bear with me, I think I’ve got something”. So I’m walking around Disney with the heavy part in my head, with the lyrics too. And it was a bit weird, because Donald Duck is over there, I’m just going through Star Wars land and I’ve got this idea in my head. I had it in my head until I got home where I just grabbed my guitar and wrote it. It was only something like three minutes long at that point. But I really had to fight its corner, as the other two really weren’t that into it. When we recorded it in the studio, I’ll be honest, I were welling up. 

Wow. What can you tell us about the lyrical themes of the track?

The lyrics to that one are quite important to me too. I’m so sick and tired at the minute of… it feels almost weekly that a friend has died, a guy in a band has killed themselves, or it’s a colleague you know? Sick and tired probably isn’t the right phrase, it’s just so frustrating that although people are more open to talk about things, their mental health, there’s still fuck-all support. I’m like, I need to say something for these people. I mean, I’ve had my own problems with depression and that, but for someone to get to that point, people need to be taken seriously. There needs to be more avenues to go down. You always feel like you wish you could have done something. People have their own reasons and would never criticise someone for their own feelings. And the whole point of the song is sometimes you want to feel like shit, I get like that. When I feel shit, I want to put some really bleak music on and feel it for a day. It’s cathartic. When we played that one back, I was watching Martin and Dave’s reactions and they were beaming, saying “this sounds incredible” and I’m there *gestures wiping tears away* a little misty eyed. I needed to get this song out, get it out of my system.

How do you approach songs in terms of writing lyrics, what themes do you like to explore?

All of it is personal, some more personal than others.  Like, ‘Jägerbombs Away’ that was written around the same time as Flatcap Bastard Features, so covers similar stuff. ‘Your Problem’ is very much about being stabbed in the back, we’ve done a video of that with all these snakes in the grass, that kind of thing. ‘Barbarian Windsor‘ is the weirdest one. I had the title first, lol, ‘Barbarian Windsor’. But it’s a depression metaphor. The idea was what if depression was Barbara Windsor as a viking and she’s a big, depressive viking horde… yeah, that’s the weirdest thing we’ve ever written *laughs*. But it’s still very much about depression and grief. 

‘Kunckledragger’ is me being political for once. I’m just pissed off at people who read The Sun and believe all that bullshit. Particularly people I know, whose Dads would have been striking miners, or steelworkers, going “oh yeah, Boris Johnson’s definitely got our best interests at heart”. There’s things like Orgreave, Brixton Riots… people forget fucking quickly don’t they? Yeah, I would say I’m left-wing, my Grandad striked, he was a steelworker, my other Grandad striked. They were all very much against what the Tories were doing in the ‘80s. But the town itself? Yes, Rotherham’s left-wing, yes it’s working class, but there’s a fucking racist underbelly. It’s a weird mix. These people who hated the tories in the ‘80s but are then happy with all the division and segregation stuff. There’s a big asian community in Rotherham, so it’s a really weird clash. I’ve always been left-inclined, but I’ve never sung about it before. But these past few years… watching people slowly-but-surely be conned by it, people that you know and respect, it’s frustrating.

Do you think you might cover political themes again in the future, or stick to more personal issues?

I’ve always talked about my own shit, the bands I listened to when I was a teenager were like Korn, then I got into hardcore, it’s all venting personal shit. I would never say we’re a politically-minded band, but if something pisses me off I’m going to talk about it. I’ve just been through a lot of personal shit these past two years that have fuelled these records. This is my way of venting and dealing with shit. I’m in a better place now.

Finally, how does it feel to be releasing your debut album on APF Records? How did your relationship with the label begin?

So after Shawn left, me and Dave were still writing, there was still going to be Swamp Coffin. Fieldy [Andrew Field, head of APF] messaged me and was like “look, when you’re ready, talk to me, I’d like to work with you”. Fieldy likes to have a full record in front of him, then decide if he’s going to put it out. But I was flirting with him for like a year, deliberately posting videos and clips of riffs to our Facebook just to throw a fishing line to him, slowly reeling in him. But It was March this year, he basically said “fuck it, let’s just do something”. He said “I’ve never signed a band without hearing the record I’m going to put out, but fuck it let’s do business”. I sent him Noose Almighty and he was over the moon with it. He’s just the best dude, he really is. I’m glad we’ve given him a decent record. 

Noose Almighty is released 26th November via APF Records and can be purchased here.

Words: Adam Pegg

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