Latest release: Alone But for the Breath of Beasts (Dinner For Wolves)
Casual, conversational and friendly, Steve Hughes sounds a very different character than the man who ranted at us ahead of his stand up tour last year. Perhaps freeing himself of the demons driving him with those rather seething performances, Hughes seems far more at ease as we check in with him from Manchester. The interview is to promote the release of his metal album Alone But for the Breath of Beasts, issued under the Eternum epithet, but the first few minutes are spent just chatting about the old school.
“Some of these old bands, they’re the ones that are kicking ass,” he declares. “I think some of the new bands – now, I’m not one of these old guys who doesn’t listen to new music – but there’s just something about the old stuff that’s real. It didn’t exist before then, so I can see it in a whole different light. I was listening to Metallica demos! That’s how old school I am. I had W.A.S.P.’s first demo, before the album.”
“Some of those guys,” he continues, “are lifers. Kreator, Destruction – they had a break, but they’re still going. Sodom – they’re lifers. King Diamond, still going. King Diamond’s new stuff is fucking great! There’s quite a few I didn’t listen to after the first three. I liked Give Me Your Soul Please back when that came out. The production was a bit digital, but the songs are great. I missed some fucking great records! He’s a lifer, King Diamond. My buddy who was in the film clip said I should listen to The Eye, so I did and it was fucking great!”
Hughes is a lifer himself. More widely known as a comedian these days, he dabbled in music from an early age and formed Slaughter Lord, perhaps Australia’s first full-fledged thrash band, in 1985. Following a 15-year trajectory through the Australian metal scene, he eventually followed a different dream in the late 90s and headed to Britain and Ireland to begin his career as a comic.
His passion for metal never dissipated. It informed his early comedy routines and he stepped back behind the drum kit once in a while to play with Primordial and Rev. Kriss Hades. The Eternum album has been a work in progress for a long time, and was actually released with a very limited distribution several years ago.
“I’ve had the album for ages,” Hughes says. “I was going to release it a few years back, but I had big personal issues that began to manifest, so that took quite a big chunk out of my life. It did come out once before. Utopia [Import Records, Sydney] was selling a version of it under a different name and everything. So some people will have a different version. But I decided to redo everything, the cover, the title. It feels more relevant to come out now, for some reason. It’s just a good time to drop it.”
Lyrically, most of the songs share a similar worldview to his comedy and his personal beliefs, except for Hail the Gods which is basically a shout-out to his musical influences. Even though they are all several years old now, “They’re still relevant to the way I think about things,” Steve says. “It’s just that my attitude has changed a little since then.”
While Australian metal musicians including Lachlan Mitchell and Pete Peric recorded with Hughes on the album, the songs are all very much his, written over the years on guitar, an instrument he admits to being far less than proficient with.
“I used to muck around with it in the 90s,” he admits. “I was never very good at picking it up. I always found it so hard. Before I played drums, I was young, I thought I’d play guitar first but I could never work out how the fuck you do chords. How do you do that? I’m still not very good. I can’t play proper guitar. I just started to fuck around with stuff I like. I play guitar well enough to write songs, so I do what I do and that’s why some of the solos on there are done by actual guitarists!” He offers a chuckle. “I know there’s going to be people saying, ‘Don’t put yourself down, Steve’. But, no. I’ve known a lot of good guitarists in my life, and I’m not one of them!”
Quite a lot of those guitarists, he goes on to say, didn’t really turn out to be great bandmate material, however.
“I know guys who can play guitar really well, but can’t write songs,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of band auditions in my life, trying guys out for bands that I was putting together and… those guitarists are usually guys who work in record shops. They’re usually lovely guys and they know arpeggios and modes and chords and scales and they can do sweeps and they can do finger-picking and all this… and then when it comes to, ‘Play us one of your songs,’ they go, ‘I haven’t written any songs’. I’m thinking, ‘If I can play guitar this good, I’d be writing fucking songs every day!’”
Technical skill and proficiency has never exactly been high on Steve’s radar when it comes to the type of music he likes to create and listen to. For him, it’s always been about feel.
“That’s what was great about early thrash… Celtic Frost, Kreator, all that. These guys were young kids! Amateurs, but they wanted to write songs, so they wrote songs.”
It’s a standard he lives by too: “I go by the old Rush ideology: ‘We like music, and we like playing music, and we thought, if we write music we like, maybe some other people will like it.’”
For most of this year, COVID has disrupted the production of vinyl. Alone But for the Breath of Beasts is only available digitally at the moment, but being an old school guy, Steve wants to see it come out as a physical package.
“To me the record was everything! The artwork, the band pics, the lyrics. It was the whole package, wasn’t it?”