Londonist stumbled across DeathBoy a while ago now through numerous mentions over on Warren Ellis dot com (you can read our interview with Warren here) and have been meaning to sit down and have a natter with the band for ages. We finally got the chance to have a few beers with Scott Lamb (vocals) and Jason Knight (guitars) ahead of their FuturePunk gig tonight and found them to be disarmingly self deprecating and charming guys who just happen to get mobs of fans to sing along to lines like I want to knife a pop star...
Londonist: DeathBoy. Not very jolly is it? Why the name?
Scott: It's the name I've been going under since I was about 18 or 19. I was just a very depressed dickhead for quite a while. Being into comics and online games, everybody on one of the hubs I was playing on had got shit super hero names so it was either DeathBoy or The Depression Kid or something along those lines. Someone did point out that there's a character in The Great & Secret Show called The Death Boy, but it was mostly about me being morbid for quite a few years.
Is there an easy way to describe what it is that you do?
S: I usually say that we're somewhere between Prodigy and NIN because those are two of our big influences.
Jason: Scott's got more of a dance background and I'm more about the hard rock and metal. Scott takes on most of the writing duties, but we play off each other. I'll try and add more guitars and he'll try and take them out and that's how we work. You need a healthy dynamic like that.
Your back catalogue is free. In fact you actively encourage fans to download and rip the music. Can you explain the thinking behind that?
S: We've always done it. Back when people first started slinging MP3s around, MP3 dot com in its former guise was a place for unheard of artists to stick their stuff up and make a few quid out of banner ads and we did make a little money out of it until the dot com bubble burst. It's mostly because if I'm doing it then I wasn't people to be able to hear it and that's more important than making money out of it. If I can make beer-money out of it then that's fantastic.
Jason: We do release commercially though, but that's because some stuff costs us a lot of money to make and we spend a lot of time on it. The new album for example took us three years to make, but it's not like we're simply trying to make money off it and nothing else.
Scott: You do get the arse when you see it floating around on peer to peer networks. For fuck's sake there's eleven fucking albums out there that you can be having for free and you have to go rip off that one? Cheers.
J: But it's almost equally as depressing when you don't see your stuff on P2P because it just means no one actually likes it.
S: I was quite made up when I saw that one of the groups who do a really good job of it had put an information file in there. Someone had ripped Music to Crash Cars To and put in a full .nfo file with a full biog of the band and then all the addresses of our various websites. So if you are going to rip us off that's the way to do it.
J: I think the only reason that anyone gives music away is because they want people to hear it and want people to come back and like the band. Whilst I'd never encourage anyone to rip us off, if that means that more people listen to the album, come and see a show and maybe buy the next album then perhaps it's not such a bad thing.
S: The more music you give away the more chance there is that someone is going to buy an album. I don't think the opposite is true. If you give away no free music or only snippets then it doesn't mean people will buy anything.
J: Some artists only give away a couple of minutes of a song. How do you know you'll like it from that? But the argument goes that by downloading music if people like it then they'll buy it, but if they don't do that they're not holding up their end of the social contract. You can't force people to buy it and you shouldn't force people to buy it, but if they so like it then it would be nice if they bought it.
S: I see some of this as payback for when we didn't have MP3s because when I was a kid a lot of albums I bought were shit simply because we didn't have the ability to listen to them before we paid for them.
J: This is why music companies are scared of peer to peer and none DRM mp3s because everyone can tell now how wank an album is.
S: They throw all this money into campaigns to make stuff look super glossy but they're polishing a turd. And now people can hear it before they buy and realise that.
J: It is easy to make two songs sound great and have the rest of the album as filler. Some of my favourite songs are on albums that are terrible.
S: Downloading may have started the decline of the album, but its also seen the comeback of the single track and if that means the consumer finally gets what they want then it's no bad thing.
J: If someone only has two or three decent songs in them then they should just release those two or three decent songs. Look at Britney Spears - she's got a couple of hit singles and then the rest of the album is toss.
S: You're furious about that.
J: I'm just waiting for the sex video to come out now.
Do you find that the way you distribute the music helps bring people to the gigs?
J: It gives us a launchpad. More people come to our gigs because of what we give away. When Scott was on his own he was very good at getting the music out there.
S: Ramming it down people's throats. But the first gig we did, which was shocking, had eighty odd people there.
J: We had just two weeks to prepare for our first gig from a standing start and we probably ended up with the most people there on the night because so many people knew who we were.
S: It is surreal though when you bog off to places like Germany and people have heard of us even though we have no distribution out there.
J: It helps to a point, but I think we've got to that point now where people can appreciate what they're getting from us.
Websites, blogs, MySpace - how important is the online community with what you do?
S: It's very important and we put a lot of time into building it up. And spamming MySpace.
J: If you got that Tom character down the pub I'm sure he'd admit that it's nothing but a marketing tool. The idea that it's a community is bollocks.
S: We did start off only adding people who had us in their profile, but then we added people who were into bands that we loved and that got a great reaction and brought a lot more people on board.
J: You don't get a connection with people on MySpace though - unless you only have 30 friends on there and treat it like a blog or a LiveJournal then its not a community. They don't give you the tools you need and frankly its a badly coded piece of shit that crashes all the time. It's rubbish.
S: Whereas LiveJournal is a community and the people on there do give a shit about what you do. A lot of people coming along to the gig tonight will have heard about it through LJ.
So how important was the DeathKiddy Test (a Flash applet with the track 'Decimate' as a soundtrack that spread out all over the Internet)?
S: It did loads. I keep meaning to write another one but I'm not quite as puerile as I used to be. I made it and we started getting between 1 and 6,000 hits a week just on the basis of that. People would say that they heard of us simply because of that one embedded track. Even though it was just something I did while I was skiving off work because I was a bit bored it got us a lot of new listeners and they linked us up and so on.
J: It tapped well into the blogosphere community thing. You have to come up with something interesting.
S: We do the same thing with our t-shirts. They're shirts you may want to wear even if you've never heard of the band Half of the people buy them because of the daft abusive slogan on them and then later say to themselves 'who are these DeathBoy chaps?' and then find us that way.
You also got a track onto the XBox 360 game Project Gotham Racing. How does it feel knowing you contributed to girlfriends worldwide being ignored while their boyfriends crashed cars listening to your music?
S: It's more surreal when people tell you that they shag listening to your music. Most disturbingly when my cousin told me. That was just wrong. But it's wicked that that happened with the 360. I used to write console games and now I write phone games and one of the other guys is an XBox coder - that's not related to how we got onto that game, but we are all big gaming fans. And it was great exposure because it was all territories and had millions of sales.
You're on iTunes now too. So what does that leave? Second Life?
J: Oh Christ. It's a very scary thing.
S: We may get round to that, but we steer clear right now because we've seen too many friends disappear into things like that and World of Warcraft never to be seen again.
Do you want to explain the Warren Ellis connection?
S: I've always loved his stuff and Mark Eris one of the Wasp Factory guys, being a dirty social beast, got talking to Warren at some pub and mentioned that one of the bands had a lyric based on a couple of panels in Transmetropolitan about politicians French-kissing babies. Warren thought that was cool. We dropped him a CD and he came along to a gig and seemed impressed that we rattle stuff out quite often and give it away for free. He also hooked us up with Chad Michael Ward, the artist for the End of an Error album cover too. He's done wonders for us. He has that Boing Boing style massively subscribed to link fest and if you google DeathBoy about half of the stuff is generated from his website.
Who would you recommend people listen to aside from DeathBoy?
J: Catscan are doing good work. And then there are the other bands playing on the bill tonight. History of guns...
S: History of guns are just anarchic as fuck and just mental, but they are brilliant and they are particular good to see live.
And now the London questions. Have you ever been sick on the tube?
S. No. But I've pissed on it.
J: I've never been sick outside of my house but my flatmate will be delighted if I mention that he vomited on the bus once.
Is Ken Livingstone good for London?
S: We could do worse.
J: The congestion charge is a good thing.
S: He's not tethered to the government which is good.
J: Well I think he had slightly more validity when he was an independent. Some of the things he's done have been marvelous. I love that hes not afraid to speak his mind. He's not perfect. The whole Jewish thing was weird. He sort of in between medium and good. He's not superb, but he's the best choice we've got.
The world is ending and you have 24 hours left in London. What do you do?
S: I'd take my bird and go on the roof of the warehouse that we used to live in, look at the stars and look at the old gas tower.
J: Look at an old gas tower?
S: Thats my favourite place in London.
J: I'd get my girlfriend, take her to a high balcony and watch the river as it rose up to consume us. Maybe feed the swans on the way out.