Gothzilla’s singer/guitarist TIM JARVIS talks to Nick Awde
Alhambra Live Magazine #001
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— Alhambra Live: the-alhambra-theatre/bats-in-the-attic
Live photos courtesy of Eddie McEleney
ALHAMBRA LIVE is one of the biggest grassroots music venues in the North West. Based in Morecambe on the sea Promenade, its adaptable spaces (and unique Lake District views) make it a vibrant hub for all-dayers and weekend festivals (Goth, Mod, Ska, Northern Soul…). It is also a hub and home for gothic music with Corrosion club night and the CorrosionFest & Bats in the Attic festivals. For more info, contact Fiona +44 (0)7771 200 873 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick Awde: Obvious opener – where does the name come from?
Tim Jarvis: [laughs] I knew right at the beginning that I wanted to make goth music for goths basically. So I basically stole completely from Metallica’s playbook: have a title that does what it says on the tin. We played around with different formats and my producer actually came up with the Gothzilla monicker – as soon as he said it, we both knew that was the one.
This would’ve been back in 2010 when we were recording the first album. I’ve used the same producer for all the Gothzilla recordings since then, Greg Friel. He’s a long-longstanding mate of mine who has a studio in Glasgow which I go to pretty much every week to use its’ facilities. Because we’ve worked together for so long, he knows my thought patterns and my way of working, and I know his. I’m very much from a rock and metal background, he’s from a pop background, and put together that’s where the Gothzilla sound comes from.
Did it come directly out of that meeting of minds or had you already been hearing a Gothzilla sound in your head before?
Not necessarily from a goth point of view. I was in various different rock and metal bands for most of my career and I had this one song that just wasn’t working as a metal song. So I thought, well let’s try it in a gothic style. I recorded it and it came out really well. So I thought, oh hang on, let’s see if we can do a few more like this. And ultimately that’s where the first album Catharsis  came from. It was intended to be a studio album initially, just myself with Greg doing everything. I never intended to take it out as a full band. But then shortly after the album’s release, I went to a local gig to see a Scottish band, Dead Eyes Opened, who were doing it as a three-piece.
It was a vocalist, a guitarist and a bass player – and a backing track. And I thought to myself, hang on a second, if they can do that… I wasn’t familiar with the whole goths being completely happy with drum machines and backing tracks scene. At that point I was thinking that I’d need to get a full band together, which I just didn’t want to do, but having seen these guys, I thought if they can do it, let’s give it a go. So I drafted in a couple of temporary guitarists to do one gig to see how it went – and that, in May ten years ago, was our first live show with an embryonic line-up.
It went very well. So after that, I decided to continue with a live band which has gone on in one form or another since then through various line-up changes and formats. We’ve tried it with a live drummer, a bass player, and at the moment it’s me and a guitarist – Stuart Harbut – which I find really the best way of doing things because it’s only one person I have to worry about [laughs] while getting everything organised.
It’s good to start mapping out what bands have been doing to shape goth in recent years. It’s been quite a long arc in any case to get where it is at the moment and it’s interesting how you’ve experimented and evolved the line-up. A lot of live bands use backing tracks brilliantly that maybe 10-20 years ago audiences would have rejected.
The Sisters of Mercy have always used a drum machine.
In a way they were the exception that proved the rule – plus Doktor Avalanche is no ordinary drum machine – but what people are doing today is far more loopy and sophisticated, let’s say, than gritty four-on-the-floor.
True, and we also need to remember that a lot of the Eighties new wave and new romantic bands are completely accepted by the goth audience, your Soft Cells and all that, and they were only using synthesizers and drum machines. A lot of proto goth bands did similar things and the goth audience was more openly accepting of not having the traditional bass/guitar/drum/vocal line-up but experimenting with other options.
I’ve seen you play a complete set just on your own and it was impressive. On the other hand, also seeing the two of you play proves there’s an added energy that’s way more than the sum of its parts.
It is. I played in a covers/wedding function band with a guitarist for twelve odd years prior to quitting that, and I always had another person on stage to bounce off and trade insults or licks with.[laughs] It’s always worked better for me to have another person on stage and I think from an audience point of view as well it makes sense because when you go to a show you want to see a show. You don’t want just some singer standing up there strapped to a microphone basically stood motionless. That’s the same for any band: if I’m going to see a band do a show I want see the band do a show, I don’t want to see a band just standing on stage regurgitating their album. I want to see movement and excitement!
How does the balance work out for you between recording music and then playing that music live?
With the recording, as I said earlier, I spend four or five hours once a week in the studio recording because I have a methodical way of doing things. I want to get the sound just right between myself and the producer. A track can take anything from four weeks to four months do finish depending on what I’m needing – at the end of the day you want to make sure that you’re happy with it in yourself. So there is a steady if slow output of music from that side of things.
Gig-wise it has obviously been difficult over the last couple of years. We’re now starting to see it pick up again and we’ve played most of the most of the festivals in the goth circuit this year with the exception of Whitby, which means next year will probably be quieter for us unless we’re going out and doing our own gigs.
And that’s the difficulty, I find, getting people to come out to see for what is effectively an unknown band. The people in the know will come to see us but it’s getting people that have never heard of us before to come out and see us. That’s a really difficult thing. People are faced with the glut of music that’s available on the internet now,it’s finding the time and the motivation to get people to come out to see live music – that is really difficult.
It it seems to me that there really is something special about goth both musically and culturally speaking. It’s the coexistence of generations as well as genres, camps and cultures within cultures, yet always organic in terms of evolution. How does your own sound reflect that ‘eternal flame’ of inspiration?
As with any genre you’re going to get people that are still wanting to recreate the sound as it was 20/30/40 years ago, but you also get people that want to push the sound forward. Now for me, when I’m doing my stuff at the studio, the rule that my producer and I said right from the start is the song is the most important thing. Even though we’re predominantly as the name suggests a goth sounding band, we still said to ourself if the song demands a metal section in here or a dance section there or what have you, it’s going to have it. The song is the most important thing. Over the years with the three albums we’ve released, we’ve had opera, we’ve had dubstep, we’ve had drum’n’bass, we’ve had dance beats. It’s proved in the music there, combining all this with the more traditional gothic sound, and that’s where the Gothzilla sound has emerged from.
Your albums have charted that process nicely.
The first album came out in 2010. That was the Catharsis album,which was very loosely me doing a diatribe on my ex-wife, so I hopefully got all that out of my system at that point. Again we had a mixture of different styles from the heaviest stuff to the more traditional goth to the dance side of things on there. As I say, that initially started out as a studio project. I was just going to put it out and then see what happened with it. And it went down very well with the audience, and there was lot of valuable response to it certainly. So then we thought, well we’ve done the first one, let’s let’s see where it goes. So we kept recording.
We release singles [latest is Insect], and as you can see from the Gothzilla Bandcamp that I also do lots of covers when original stuff is not grabbing me – we’ve done about 20 covers over the years in one format or another. Then the second album The Dark Is Rising  came out and that showed a definite progression in the songwriting, again all the different elements were there but with a lot of heavier stuff coming in, like experimenting with industrial guitars on some of the tracks. And again that went down really well, and it got us noticed by a few of the the festivals – we got onto the Breaking Bands Festival [in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire] at that point and Carpe Noctum in Leeds offered us a gig, which was really nice. Word of mouth just got around, we started picking up the gigs. And then we released the last album Auras  right in the middle of Lockdown – so we’ve actually still to have our official launch party for it, but it’s the most popular album to date.
Currently we’re working through an EP of reworkings of songs that I wrote and played with old bands that I’ve been in. We’re bringing those up to date and giving them the gothic twist before working on the next proper album. That is going to be a concept album and we’ve started work, with the ‘first draft’ pretty much done so we’re looking forward to seeing how that progresses. It’s going to be a couple of years before it’s released just to make sure everything’s done right, taking the time that it needs to evolve.
‘Concept’? You’ve mentioned it, so I have to ask the question…
[laughs] Yes, that’s a good question! We’ve already got the first song and we’ve got a rough idea of what we want the story to be. It’s going to be heavily involved around politics – a man’s rise and subsequent fall from grace and power. We’ve got to get the story fully fleshed out but the first song has been pretty much completed. It’s sounding awesome. It’s the only way I can describe it, I’m so happy with it. And I look forward to releasing it to an unsuspecting world in the future.
The album will have a political story but it won’t be preachy. I know that a lot of bands will use their music as a soapbox for their political views and trying to ram their views down people’s throats.But I’m not strongly political at all.
Where are you based?
I’m from Central Scotland just outside Edinburgh. And my guitarist Stuart is in Bristol. So makes rehearsing slightly difficult as you can imagine. But Stuart has risen to the challenge, he learns everything he needs to do and then we usually try to get together the night before a gig or the morning before a gig to run through everything. Just make sure we know what each one is is doing and when we’re coming in.
Stuart’s very much a godsend. He’s got a very similar attitude to the whole gigging process as I do, and he’s aware we’re not going to become billionaires from it immediately, if ever. It’s an expensive hobby basically and we both regard it as such. We just check the diary date, “are you free on this date?”, “right”, we’re in, we’re sorted, jump in the car. We both play in other bands as well but it’s never been an issue for clashes of dates.
Putting the concept album to one side, lyrics-wise where does the inspiration come from?
Generally speaking I do songs on a song by song basis. So that there’s no arc per se. It happened to be with the first album where alot of the songs were as I mentioned earlier rants against my ex-wife, and overall they actually loosely formed a storyline. So I guess that could have been considered potentially as a concept album as well! It wasn’t intended that way, it was just the way that the song structures came out. The second and third albums were made up of completely separate songs – it was just whatever sounded good for the song at the time, an idea for a lyric, or the song led itself to a lyrics. So that there’s not been a concerted effort to go down one particular route on a song by song basis with The Dark Is Rising and Auras.
I’m guessing there must still be an underlying consistency to your songs if only that you’re not going to be writing songs about ‘pumping it up’ or ‘my baby done left me’.
I don’t know… The second album had a song about vampires and then a song about the remembering of a loved one on the deathbed.Then we had songs about war and a political song about being brainwashed by the media. So no particular overriding themes as such, each song was very much its own its own beast.
Does the fact you’re based in Scotland bring a particular flavour or attitude to the songs?
I’m not sure that the location plays much of a significance in what we do. Historically the North of England has been the goth stronghold, with Leeds being the goth of capital the world, I guess. But up in Scotland at the moment that there is not a huge amount of goth bands. Ourselves are one of the main ones and there’s a couple from Glasgow [Kuro, Mary’s Hidden Light] but there’s not that many more as far as I’m aware. Up in this neck of the woods the scene is mostly down from the South – fortunately or unfortunately depending on where you’re based.
There are a lot of metal clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow. There are regular goth nights in both cities but it’s the club scene as opposed to the live scene, which are two completely different things. You’ll have a club night preceded by live music, and the live music side will be poorly attended, but as soon as the club night opens it’s packed. It’s really odd that we’re finding again that reluctance to come and see the live bands and this ultimately could stagnate the new music coming through. Because if new bands aren’t able to be heard and people get their music, then people aren’t going to do it basically.
How important are festivals of all sizes and shapes to this?
They’re very important. Very much so, because they give us the chance to play to audiences that we wouldn’t necessarily have been playing to if we’ve gone out to play by ourselves. So playing on a five or six band bill is incredibly good for for building up the audience and letting them see what we do. A new festival with a multi-band bill like Bats in the Attic is important for the bands and the audience.
It’s organised by Corrosion and Donna and Mike of McGothicfox Promotions. Donna and Mike have been extremely good to us over the years and been one of our major supporters. They’ve really helped to build up the profile that we have in the UK with the shows that they’ve booked us.
They’ve certainly seen the value of festivals.
With these two especially, they go out of their way to bring diverse bands to the attention of the punters that come to the festivals. They’re not going with the big names – the standing joke is that there’s four festival headliners who work a rotating basis every year. But Donna and Mike go out of their way to bring in new bands not just from the UK but from all over the world and bring them to the attention of the music public. I would love to see them build a bigger and bigger audience because they certainly deserve it.
I think from Donna and Mike’s point of view, they just want to bring the bands that they want to see over to us and let other people experience them. Whenever I’ve spoken to them about who’s on the bill this this year or who’s on the bill next year, they’ve always been hugely enthusiastic about the bands in question – “Oh Tim, you’ll like X Y and Z, or this band here that we saw a couple of years ago. And you’ll absolutely love this band!” They’re bringing in the bands that they want to see and let their love of these bands expand to other people.
And that includes all the people who want to get back to the live music scene – those that did go regularly prior to Lockdown have had such a tough time of it. I know for myself because I was going to gigs once or twice every week, it was a major part of my life. During lockdown I was climbing the walls as I’m sure loads of other people were as well. So now to be able to get back out there both from a playing point of view and as a punter is an absolute joy.
Obviously a lot of other people are still hesitant about going out and doing the socialising thing for fear of the Covid situation, but hopefully things will pick up and people will start getting back out to see the live music and supporting the grassroots level bands as opposed to only venturing out when it’s one of the big four.
So it’s back to the festivals and the part they can play in raising bands’ profiles on the live circuit. We’re talking about them being far more than end-of-term showcases for the usual suspects.
Yes. I absolutely love what Corrosion are trying to build up with Alex and Fiona at Alhambra Live in Morecambe. First of all it’s a superb venue and it’s ideally suited for what they’re doing. It’s not too big but yet again it’s not too small. It’s just the right size. For the moment they’re building their audience and it’s interesting to see how they have added Bats in the Attic in August to follow on from CorrosionFest in March.
I’ve played Alhambra Live a couple of times now – we played CorrosionFest this year as a last-minute substitute! – and I’ve been there as a punter a few times too. I think it is ideally suited to what they’re doing. I hope they’re able to do a lot more gigs from all the genres and build up to be one of the major venues on the circuit because it certainly has the ability to be there as one of the headliner venues that you want to play.
It will definitely be interesting to see what the difference between the two festivals are. I would love to see CorrosionFest and Bats in the Attic get to the stage where they are treated as one of the major players on the national goth festival circuit. I would love to see them get to capacity and then see where it goes from there. Alhambra Live is ideally suited because obviously you’re right on the coast,there’s the accommodation right beside the venue spreading out over all the hotels and B&Bs, so it certainly has the potential to increase year by year.
Certainly the CorrosionFest/Bats in the Attic combination is a good definition of a destination festival for live music as opposed to being a wider event like Whitby. The purely urban elements of Leeds and Manchester may not be there for obvious reasons but at least you’re not standing in a field with a pint and getting rained on.
[laughs] Funnily enough that’s what I was doing last weekend. It was a mini invitation-only type thing, Goths On A Field [both the event name and an apt description!] – it’s primarily a camping event but they brought some bands in this year as a social for friends that have likeminded attitudes. It’s extremely good fun, all power to the guys that organised that.
Morecambe is a completely different animal though. It is, I guess, trying ultimately to build up to compete against Whitby, which for a lot of people has become too commercialised. There’s too many people that pretend to be into the goth scene – the word ‘dress-up’ is fired around a lot – and they just come out to wander around town in their costumes that they’ve spent however long making, who aren’t necessarily into the music side of things. For a lot of people, a festival is just about the music side, and if for others that’s not the case then that’s fine. If they want to do the whole dressing up and wander around town pretending to be Victorian vampires or what have you, that’s fine. Go do that, I don’t care. But for me the music has always been the important thing. And that’s why I like the Morecambe side of things because they’re not trying to build up to be anything else other than a music festival.
As you’ve pointed out, live music is still facing huge challenges – and not just because of Lockdown because there were issues before like the clubs nights versus the live bands. It’s often a hard sell. Do you think that’s a specific goth issue or something that’s affecting live music in general?
It’s live music in general. I do see a lot of rock acts as well, and I know a lot of people in bands on the club scene and the rock circuit who are saying it’s just as hard on that side. There are various reasons for it but a lot of it is the fact that people aren’t prepared to take risks to go and see something that they’re not familiar with. They would much rather spend 15 quid going to see some horrible tribute act than pay a fiver to go out and check out three new bands.
I think that’s another reason that music is stagnating at the moment in terms of life performances. It costs bands an absolute fortune to do a show from the cost of rehearsal to the cost of their instruments, maintaining instruments, petrol costs… oh my god, don’t even talk about petrol costs. So it costs a fortune to put on a show and people aren’t even prepared to pay a fiver to go out and check out what you’re doing.
It’s really difficult for all new bands at the moment. And because of the range now on all the radio stations and all your internet stations et cetera, it’s hard to get mainstream interest going now. At the end of the day, people aren’t prepared to take risks on an unknown factor. All your mainstream radio are going with what they know people will flock to immediately, so they’re not prepared to try and break new bands in – especially not from the alternative sectors that are not your your pop mainstream styles.
So it’s really difficult but we’re going to keep going at it. We’ll keep fighting but if people aren’t interested it will die out. Goth has had its hard knocks but I don’t think it’ll ever die completely. It will always be there at some point. At the moment what we’re needing is to get the breakthrough artist that is going to bring it back to the forefront in the mainstream. That hasn’t happened for a long time so goodness knows where we’re going to get that from.
There’s no shortage of bands willing to put the work in but they’re not sure how to proceed. What we’re missing is the infrastructure of the managers, the promoters, the PR people – they all seem to be going for the quick easy buck as opposed to putting in the time to build up the next generation.
Where is the next Sisters of Mercy, where is the next Mission? We’re not seeing these new bands coming through and eventually the old guard are going to die and there’s not going to be anyone left to replace them because we haven’t taken the time to build up the new wave.
— Bats in the Attic 2022 tickets: morecambe/the-alhambra-theatre/bats-in-the-attic
— McGothicfox Promotions Facebook: @McGothicfox
— Corrosion Facebook: @morecambegoths