Pet Deaths: “We have the same dark, pessimistic, twisted sense of humour”

Scrabbling around for the right record to hit you in the feels following a particularly grisly root canal? Or searching Spotify for a “family dog just died” playlist to no avail? Have no fear, London-based celestial folk duo Pet Deaths are on-hand to give you what you need. Exposed spoke with Liam Karima (previously of Sheffield faves Hey Sholay) and Graeme Martin to find out what we can expect from their debut offering.

For those who unfamiliar with Pet Deaths, can you succinctly sum up what you’re all about?
LK: Pet Deaths make sad music for sad people: melancholic harmonies, delicate guitars, loose beats, ambience, and natural sounds. It’s something we would suggest listening to if you are feeling a little low after putting down a loved pet or post-tooth extraction; feeling sorry for yourself riding the X78 with a swollen cheek.

Your debut album ‘to the top of the hill and roll…’ will be released at the end of the month. What can you tell us about it and how it came together?
LK: We literally bumped into each other near the Trelick Tower in London with guitars on our backs and a vague recognition from playing on the same bills in previous bands (Hey Sholay /Let’s Buy Happiness). We then realised we both lived a stone’s throw away. To escape the smog and pace of the big city we started making noises with spoken words on Graeme’s balcony, living room, bedroom, kitchen, and recording demos on an old dictaphone. This evolved into making more structured songs in Oxfordshire’s Courtyard Studios, which is what you hear on the album. The record itself is a loose concept-based piece that starts at the top of the hill and ends at the bottom, wrote over a two-year period based on the start and the end of a relationship.

Both of your native cities, Sheffield and Newcastle, have a rich musical heritage. How does where you come from influence your sound today?
LK: I don’t think the music from Sheffield influenced our sound as such, I think the environment more so. I used to hang out with skateboarders from an early age – until I realised I couldn’t skate. They were the cool kids of Devonshire Green who never washed and had oversized trousers held up by a shoe lace. I thought I was in a Larry Clark film and hung out at the SUMO skate shop watching skate videos; the soundtracks of these skate videos were so eclectic, mind-blowing, and became a major part of what I listened to ranging from the Beatles to Dr Octagon.
GM: Musically, the scene in Newcastle had a big impact on how I played when I first started out as a teenager writing music. There were some incredible bands in Newcastle back then that pushed everyone to be better and looked after each other; it was an amazing thing to be a part of. The scene was easy, one huge building with everyone’s practice rooms for pennies and a cup to pee in. I think Pet Deaths has a British sound but I don’t think you’d listen and go, “Oh, he’s a Geordie” – as I feel that is the case with most of the music from Newcastle like Jimmy Nail or Mark Knopfler. There is certainly no particular style of music that is solely associated with the city, but there are a load of brilliant bands coming out that vary dramatically to each other despite being in the same circles. It’s an eclectic scene of lovely, huggable, Greggs-eating people.

Was there any initial Sheff vs Newcastle banter, or have you united nicely under the Northern banner?
GM: We have the same dark, pessimistic, twisted sense of humour so coming together as northerners in London under similar circumstances was always going to be interesting.
LK: I still can’t understand what Graeme is saying most of the time to be honest, as his Geordie accent is thicker than mud.

To escape the smog and pace of the big city we started making noises with spoken words on Graeme’s balcony

Liam, you spent a period of time with Sheff favourites Hey Sholay – even gracing the Exposed cover at one point. How do you look back on that period personally?
LK: My Nan still has the cover framed on her floral walls, bless. So it’s always a talking point when I visit. Yeah, I look back fondly on those five years, Hey Sholay was a great time in my life and I have many fuzzy, warm memories. Unfortunately all good things come to an end; we became frustrated with the whole industry and burnt out. We still have a finished second album gathering dust somewhere, maybe something we could leak one Christmas and give exclusivity to Exposed Mag?

Yes, let’s do it! Shifting back to the present, you both are very much part of London’s concrete fast-lane these days. How, if at all, does your music reflect your surroundings?
LK: London definitely played a major influence on the bleakness of the record. Music proved to be a form of mediation and escapism. The influence of the characters in London can be heard on a few of the tracks such as ‘Lola’ and ‘Only Bad Things’ – these characters offered some sort of enlightenment whilst struggling with depression. They lifted the cloud; it was my nod to Lou Reed.

‘Wind up Bird’ is the opening track on the record. How does it set the tone for the rest of the album?
LK: As a concept album, this is a great opener: it’s seven minutes long and sets you up for the walk up the hill – with no fucks given. It exposes the early stages and the foreboding messages of a relationship taking a sour turn. A wind-up toy has all the energy when the key is turned, eventually we lose patience and we question whether we really need to turn the key anymore.

You produced the album over various long weekend sessions in Oxfordshire, locked in at several points throughout the year with no outside distractions and an obsessive focus on what you were creating. How important was this process for producing the album? Did you ever feel a bit of cabin fever coming on?
GM: Cabin fever was real. I can get a bit obsessive especially after 15 coffees and nicotine. But I definitely enjoy being locked in a studio; it gives a focus and gets rid of distractions. The only obstacles are your mind and knowing when to call it a day… which I struggle with it. It was just a natural progression for me.
LK: We definitely lost our minds. I was sick and I remember we were snowed in and the session turned almost into The Shining at one point, I cried for days in-between takes, swung a bat around the studio. It definitely helped us focus on what needed to be done. It’s a real wet, strange record with a bloody big heart and I think you can hear that.

You said that Leonard Cohen and Jiro Yoshihara were major talking points when you first met. Would these be the two figures you’d most like to collaborate with? Any others? Can be dead or alive, obviously.
LK: Cohen musically and Japanese minimal art visually was our dream for Pet Deaths from day one. Other artists? I’d love to write a long complaints letter to Vladimir Nabokov with Hunter S. Thomson as editor.

What else does the rest of the year hold for Pet Deaths?
GM: Some shows in Europe, a UK tour. Maybe another Sheffield show in early December?
LK: We have half of the next record already recorded, so I think finish this in mid-December and follow up with another album early in the New Year.

Pet Deaths’ debut album ‘to the top of the hill and roll…’ is out now

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