Latest release: Never Say Die (Dinner For Wolves)Website: www.facebook.com/deadcityruins/
Jake Wiffen is well aware of the connotations inspired by Never Say Die, the title of Dead City Ruins’ latest album, and the very retro look and feel of the cover art. While acknowledging the similarities to Black Sabbath, the singer reckons that it’s more coincide than design.
“I’m well aware of the Sabbath album title and I’ve got a huge Ozzy tattoo on my ribs,” he says, which is both awesome and weird in equal amounts, “so I can’t deny that I’m a massive Ozzy fan and a massive fan of Sabbath. But the rest of the boys in the band have as much to do with the songwriting as I do and the fact that it’s called Never Say Die has more to do with all the things the band’s been through over the last eight years, and also what we went through over the last two and a half years – going through different label changes, line-up changes… all the absolute fucking bullshit we went through just to get to the release of this album has been nothing sort of traumatic.”
“‘Never say die’ has sort of come to be our mantra,” he suggests. “So many opportunities to just roll over and give up the ghost, and I think that 99% of people – sane people – would have done that, because we’ve been through a lot of shit. I guess that’s why Never Say Die couldn’t say it any better. It’s a title that fits this album really well.”
In the wake of a European tour with Ugly Kid Joe and Skid Row and a well-received self-titled album four years ago, the band’s bass player walked away from the group and Dead City Ruins struggled with line-up changes for a while. It was a bitter pill after the success they had enjoyed.
“It was a blow, especially the way that it happened,” Wiffen says. “The guy that left wasn’t too cool about the way he did it. He kinda spat the dummy and caused a lot of shit, and then we had to replace him and even at the time of recording we really only had a fill-in drummer, so we had to find a drummer and we did some more touring and both the rhythm section decided that wasn’t what they really wanted to do, so they left and we had to find another drummer and another bass player, so it was a lot of shit. But that’s being in a rock n’ roll band!”
He’s philosophical about that. Being a touring musician isn’t an easy gig. As Dizzy Reed recently surmised, rock n’ roll ain’t easy.
“It’s a lot of things, man,” the singer says of life on the road for a band that tours as hard as they do. “It’s a huge financial strain. Not only the fact that you have pay for a lot of stuff in a band, it’s really hard to keep a full time job. You come back from three months on the road, you’re in debt most of the time and you’ve got no job and sometimes nowhere to live, so there’s so many layers and reasons as to why people decide that they can’t do it. In the past we’ve done such long tours. Three months of sleeping on people’s couches, playing every night, driving 15 – 16 hours every day… it does wear you down.”
Dead City Ruins are among a raft of other Australian rock bands who are upholding the AC/DC tradition by concentrating most of their touring on Europe and the UK. With the local market being the way it is, it’s the only way some bands can afford to keep going.
“We’ve been so focused on overseas for the pure reason that if you build a career in Europe or you build a career in America, that sets you up. You can live off that. But in Australia… even if you’re a big band in Australia you can’t tour all year. So you have to work another job, and a lot of bands fall on their knees in Australia because they get big in Australia and they think, ‘Let’s go to Europe!’ and they realise they’re playing to two people in a shitty little pub on a Monday night and they can’t hack it. We’ve kind of done the opposite thing. We work seven days a week here in shitty jobs and save up all our coin to go tour our arses off in Europe to try and make it financially viable.”
Never Say Die stands as a testament to the amount of work the band has done since 2014’s Dead City Ruins. Working on songs between beers on days off “so we don’t just get drunk and fight each other”, two weeks of pre-production and bringing in accomplished British producer James Lewis has resulted in a lean, mean collection of hard rocking tunes in contrast to the sometimes rambling riff-fests of the previous album.
“I’m a big fan of guitar riffs,” Wiffen says. “Obviously Sean (Blanchard) our guitarist is a big fan of guitar riffs. If left to our own devices, we’ll have a fifteen minute song that has 34 different guitar riffs in it and we’ll be pumping our fists going, ‘Yeah, this is fucking sick!’ But anyone that’s not playing it is going to get bored. And that’s where you need a strong hand to come in and go, ‘Yeah, you guys can really play, but no one want to hear that. Gimme the goods, and condense down all that you want to say in that fifteen minutes, and cut it back’.”
Lewis was the man for the job, putting the songs through the wringer and pushing the band to their limits as songwriters again and again.
“He really broke everything down and rewrote it and then made us break everything down and rewrite it and break it down and rewrite it and go back to the start. It was a real learning curve working with a real producer who comes from the world of working with people like Adele and Arctic Monkeys and all these pop people.”
The results speak for themselves. Never Say Die has already won heavy plaudits from critics everywhere and the band is gearing up to take it on the road once again, starting things off with a show supporting L.A. Guns this weekend in Sydney. Jake Wiffen, as to be expected, it extremely pleased with how it all came out.
“It’s honest, it’s short, it’s to the point, I don’t think there’s a weak song on there. I listen to the whole thing and say, ‘Yeah, I’m happy with all of those songs’. Honestly,” he says with certainty, “this is the best thing musically I’ve ever done.”