Demons of Noon on EP The Summoning, debuting in front of 500 Wellington metalheads, and unexpected compliments from Tova O’Brien
Auckland’s Demons of Noon announced themselves as a serious doom metal force with debut EP The Summoning in April 2020. It wasn’t until December that they appeared on stage, supporting Beastwars in Wellington. Their next gig will be with Bloodnut and Thousand Limbs at Whammy Bar on the 18th, which made this a good time for Max Johns to catch up with three-quarters of the band for a drink or two over Zoom.
HUP is diligently on the call at the appointed hour, greeted by Demons of Noon bassist (and Zoom host) Jonathan Burgess. This is an opportunity for a quick fact check of the band’s credits on Bandcamp, which list all four band members as vocalists. Jonathan confirms that every band member is a vocalist. This leads HUP to compare Demons of Noon to the Backstreet Boys.
Rather than immediately end the call, Burgess launches into a story while we wait for Joe McElhinney (drums) and Scott Satherley (guitar) to join the call. (Guitarist Abraham Kunin couldn’t make it.)
“The Backstreet Boys of doom metal?” he repeats, “Well, we've done one gig, which was with Beastwars, and afterwards we walk backstage to find [NewsHub political editor] Tova O’Brien back there, who was the last person I expected to see, but she’s married to Nato, the drummer in Beastwars.
“And her take was ‘man, now I know why you guys don't have any promo photos up. You’re the most handsome band in doom metal. No-one would take you seriously!’ So...that’s a bit like the Backstreet Boys.”
In the meantime, Joe and Scott have joined the call. We’re off to a weird start.
Demons of Noon at full blast in Wellington, December 2020. L-R Abraham Kunin, Scott Satherley, Jonathan Burgess (photo: Bruce Mackay, darkerarts.com)
HUP: You’re all in Auckland, I take it? Dealing with lockdown again?
Jonathan Burgess: Yep, we're locked down for the fourth time.
HUP: And you pretty much emerged during lockdown number one...
HUP: ...but presumably you did not have your first rehearsal over Zoom?
Scott Satherley: We were jamming for well over a year before we actually recorded the EP. It was quite a long time.
JB: It was very much a thing that we all wanted to do because we enjoyed it. First and foremost, it was just a glorious thing to do on a Sunday afternoon.
HUP: How did you guys get together? What was the impetus for forming the band?
JB: A few of us have done quite a lot of mileage as professional musicians and there was a period a few years ago when my phone went a little bit quiet, and I didn't have that much music to do. Heavy music was always the first thing that I loved, and the music that I enjoy the most, and oddly the music that I performed the least.
I got pulled into all sorts of things by all sorts of people but playing heavy stuff wasn’t ever one of them, so I decided to use my time to start something like that.
Poetically, as I was a passenger driving through the Karangahake Gorge I called Joe. Joe was in London, we'd played together previously about 10 years ago but he’d moved to London to roast coffee. But Joe was on his way back! And it came to me in a vision that we’d start a band.
Joe McElhinney: I still remember walking up the street in London, and how it all just worked out beautifully. We were listening to the same stuff at the same time, and going, “Alright! Let’s do something!”
JB: Initially the band was called Gorge, because of the epiphany in the gorge, but people have already had that idea a few times now. A couple of the bands named Gorge seem to be quite good, and in a similar vein as well, so we got our own name which Scott came up with.
And then we got Abe on board for our first jams, and just brought in riffs. We would just go underneath St Kevin’s Arcade and play really loud. Periodically Tom Anderson, who’s our George Martin, would stick his head in the door and ask for it to be heavier and we’d oblige.
JMc: I think we’ve got that on a little iPhone demo somewhere. We're gonna have to sneak it in somewhere.
HUP: Joe, what have you and Jonathan played before? Jonathan said you’d worked together years ago.
JMc: Jon and I got linked up with a singer songwriter called Sarah Brown [who is, according to the NZ Music Commission artist directory, “a petite blonde bombshell possessed of a special way with heartfelt pop songs”]. It’s an echo of Jon's comments about not playing heavy music - playing a lot of stuff that wasn't what we were listening to. That was how we met.
HUP: Scott, have you played with either of these guys before?
SS: No, but I’ve been friends with Jonathan for a long time so I've seen his many bands play live. But this is the first time we’ve played together.
HUP: Abe’s not on this call, so I can’t ask him, but did he have any connections playing with any of you before?
JB: Abe and I went to music school together, and also flatted together at the time, and also played together in all sorts of bands. There's a period of two or three years where we were probably together 20 hours a day or something.
HUP: So had you two played heavy stuff together before now?
JB: No, but do you remember that phase where there were metal bands with a singer and then a specific screamer-person? Around emo times? When I met Abe, he was the screamer person in one of those bands.
HUP: Was this back when metal bands also had a specific rap-person?
JB: No, it was slightly after the rap period. Maybe the rap-people became the scream-people, because Abe can actually spit some verses.
SS: He can.
HUP: Can we look forward to hearing some of this on the next EP?
JMc: No way. No.
HUP: You recorded your EP, The Summoning, before playing any shows. Was the idea to be more of a 'studio band'?
JB: We were a ‘play during the day at Whammy Bar’ band to write all the stuff. We were actually planning a release of our EP when lockdown happened. We just decided that we had to put it out, really, and we couldn't do shows or anything.
HUP: And how was the recording process?
JB: Fun fact - we recorded all the tunes instrumentally without vocals because it was too loud in the practice room. Then we created all the vocals afterwards over the instrumental takes, all written on top of the music.
HUP: How many vocal takes did that all take?
JB: It was pretty quick, we did them all in single sessions.
JMc: ‘Mike’, the second song on the EP, was frighteningly fast.
SS: One take, for some of the verses.
JMc: Yeah. some of the verses were written pretty quickly and before any of us had even heard them, you know? Jonathan and Scott just went up, like ”right!”, and the first time we heard it was them delivering the take.
HUP: After you worked the vocal in over the top like that, how was it getting those songs to work live?
SS: Easy. Two practices. In my mind, by recording first you reach a larger audience in a way, and it's a good way of polishing your craft and fleshing the songs out a bit more.
HUP: But not every band practice went perfectly, right?
JB: In the final stages of preparing for the Beastwars show, about a couple of weeks out, we were rehearsing. We’re good friends with Simon, who plays bass in Head Like a Hole, and he's got a cool rehearsal setup at his place that he lets us use, very kindly. One Sunday afternoon we were shut down by noise control within, like, 20 minutes! How’s that response time? Someone must have called them the instant that we started.
And this is the place that Head Like a Hole rehearses at! It has. Had. Some. Rehearsals. I think it’s the only time noise control’s been called there.
SS: When Simon opened the doors, he was like [hurried throat-cutting gestures] ‘Gahh! Arhh!’ He was panicking, man.
JB: We stopped straightaway. You don't see Simon ruffled, ever. And, I mean, we didn't want to get Head Like a Hole’s equipment confiscated!
HUP: Some pretty impressive connections are coming up very early in the story of Demons of Noon. How did you get the opening slot for Beastwars as your first gig? That’s a hell of a first grab!
JB: Isn't it just? We're just so thrilled that Nate [Beastwars’ drummer Nathan Hickey] found us and was willing to take a punt on us. Beastwars are legends, and they've reached a level of popularity that not many metal bands in New Zealand reach. I think they’re quite aware of that, and are careful to support the local scene.
They had a tour coming up and they basically posted on social media, ‘who are the cool bands around at the moment?’, and some people posted our EP. Nate had a listen and loved it, and he got in touch. He said, ‘We've already booked up the Auckland show, but do you guys want to come down to Wellington?’ and we were like, ‘Hell yeah!’
I think he might have asked if we were a recording project or live project, haha! So that sped up the process nicely, having a good deadline to work towards.
We were second out of three on the bill as well, just before Beastwars, and I think the relief was palpable for Nate when we showed up in Wellington and soundchecked. Like, ‘phew, they can play’.
HUP: How long was the set? You presumably had more than the three EP tracks.
JB: That we did. We were a polite opening band, we did a tight 30 minutes. Because no one wants opening bands to go on. But it also ended up as a much tighter sound than we'd been rehearsing.
HUP: And what sort of reception did you get from the crowd?
JB: They loved the hell out of it! It was quite a thing, being at San Fran with 500 Wellington metal fans singing along with the chorus to ‘Mike’. It was probably the first time that most of them were hearing it, but they were fully on board and singing along with that tune.
It was perfect, just delivering ourselves directly to 500 Wellington metalheads - exactly the people that would love what we were doing. We couldn't have had a better first gig. There’s a real good scene there.
HUP: Your second gig is with Bloodnut and Thousand Limbs on March 18. How did that come about?
JB: Because Doug [McFarlane] from Bloodnut is just a similarly supportive member of the scene. I don’t even know when he listened to the recording, but he did and he loved it. Then jumped on the forums and shared it.
JMc: The one, maybe the only, benefit of having an EP come out during lockdown is everyone's got a fuck-ton of time on their hands. They’re like, ‘great, something new and local, and it’s heavy music for heavy times’. So Doug jumped on it pretty soon after it came out.
And you’re just always super pumped to hear anyone else who's into what you've done. That's why we asked them to come and do this show as well - to see each other do the stuff in the room, man.
JB: It’s on the 18th, and we’ll be coming out of covid Level 2 on the 12th, I hope.
SS: There’ll be fewer than 100 people so it’ll be fine.
HUP: We’ve talked about the metal scene in Wellington being strong and long-lived. What’s the scene in Auckland like?
JB: We’re going to find that out [laughs].
JMc: In my experience it is whatever you make it. You’ve got to pull in everyone who's close to you and try to get as much support as you can from people who know about you, through interviews like this one, or who get to hear you through the wire. Then it's great to be able to pull people out of the torpor of everyday life and into things like this. It’s hard to get a thing like this together these days as well, at least in my experience...given how long it's taken us to make this happen.
SS: it's kind of like New Year’s Eve, you know? It’ll disappoint you no matter what. You’re like, man, this isn’t the night I imagined...now I’m tweaking out at 3am...there’s like, 10 people…[trails off]
JB: Whammy and Wine Cellar next door are almost single-handedly holding up Auckland’s independent music scene at the moment. Cassette Nine’s gone more dance-y.
JMc: Cassette Nine is more of a “show up with a USB stick rather than a fuckin’ instrument” kind of place now.
HUP: If you had a really good year or two, what would count as big success for you guys?
JMc: What’s that festival you wanna do in Europe, Jonathan?
JB: The actual goal is to play at the Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, the Netherlands. It's amazing. In my mind, it's the best heavy festival in the world. It just brings together the coolest bands and I've discovered so many bands through it. They're about to do an online one that's completely free, so you can check it out. That's our Holy Grail, making it there. It’s a very ‘New Zealander’ sort of goal, I guess.
SS: South By Southwest would be cool too. Imagine that, it’d be a dream.
JB: The interim stepping stone is the Dark Mofo festival in Hobart, at MONA [Museum of Old and New Art] - the art gallery run by the genius gambling guy.
HUP: Home of the poo machine!
JB: Yes, but the day that I visited it wasn't running and I felt so ripped off. You go all the way to Hobart to see the poo machine, and the poo machine isn’t going.
SS: The WHAT?
JB: It’s the size of a room, and it digests stuff. I think they feed the waste from the cafe into it, maybe. And it digests the food and poos it out.
SS: That’s beautiful.
JMc: Like an anti-Bill Gates machine.
SS: Surely someone’s made a music video, just of the human poo machine.
JMc: What, like dropped a GoPro in the top of it?
JB: ANYWAY, the cool thing about the genre is it's never going to hit a huge audience, but it’s a very loyal audience. The bands that make it can perpetually tour and sustain themselves off small venues. The Melvins of the world, and the Conans, will literally play Whammy Bar still, which is the same bar that we play at. Then they can just go and play at all the other Whammy Bars in the world. Roadburn, as part of a big tour, would be the ultimate thing for us.
SS: This is definitely a full passion. We’ve all got jobs that we’re pretty deep into and there's no unrealistic expectation of what may happen. We do it because we like it and it's fun to hang out on Sundays. Hanging out with your friends and jamming is the best thing ever. It's cosmic, jamming like that, and it's so much fun, so it doesn't really matter if it goes nowhere. If it goes somewhere, that’s even better.
HUP: Have you seen much international interest in the EP?
JB: We're venturing into the world of the international doom forums at the moment. The EP’s doing the rounds.
HUP: Have you discovered anything unexpected there?
JB: Doom forums at all, I guess.
JMc: Since having this EP out it's been interesting to see where it's been grabbed. This forum popped up out of nowhere, and by virtue of this one guy grabbing it, Jon uncovered some kind of ‘doom politics’ between these two channels.
The guy who finds us first is Rob Hammer, and he’s like, ‘yeah, I do this for the love of it, and I love what you guys are doing, so let’s post this thing up’. Then immediately after that we get tapped by this other channel, and they’re like, ‘so here's the commercial opportunity - for 20 euro we’ll pin you here…’.
They had splintered because Rob just wanted to follow his passion. The doom forum politics are an unexpected thing.
JB: Yep, and you know what? Rob was the best of the two! We had better outcomes from the free, for-the-love guy. It was great, he asked ‘do you mind if I put your EP up on my channel?, and I said ,’cool, what do you need from us?’, and he says, ‘nothing at all, I've already bought the album’. He paid for it, and then put it up.
HUP: The Summoning deserves a wide audience, so that’s awesome. Speaking of new audiences, what should people know about you if their first chance to see you is at Whammy Bar on the 18th?
JB: A lot of people that I've talked to discount heavy metal as a genre because of the vocals. But that’s not us at all. Just let people know that we have, like, a really inclusive and welcoming metal vocal style.
HUP: I’ll quote you on that.
Demons of Noon, Bloodnut and Thousand Limbs play Whammy Bar, Auckland, March 18.
The Summoning is on Bandcamp where you can stream it for free or buy the high-quality download for the fitting, and incredibly reasonable, price of $6.66. It’s also on Rob Hammer’s love-fuelled Doom Metal YouTube channel.