I’ve always found it very interesting trying to cover the acts that not many apart from maybe the inner circle of fans in their hometown know a lot about. I guess Rabid Bitch Of The North from Belfast in Northern-Ireland fits this description. The band has just issued a three track tape through Sarlacc, and fortunately, guitarist Gerry Mulholland put a lot of effort into answering my questions, making this the in depth feature I wanted it to be.
Under what circumstances were the band formed and by whom? Who were the original members of the band? What was the first song you wrote and the first concert you did? Is Rabid Bitch Of The North the first band for all members, or do any of you have previous band experience?
– Rabid Bitch of the North I guess was formed by myself and Joe, back while we were at school. If you want to go back to the very, very formative period, it would start with myself and Joe getting instruments for Christmas. Christmas 97′ I think it was. I got a guitar for Christmas and Joe got a bass, and it was planned we would get instruments for Christmas and start a band. I had already got my guitar a few months before that Christmas however so I was already playing away despite the instrument being my Christmas gift for that year. Haha, it’s all coming back to me!
We got a guitar and bass and we started playing like in our bedrooms together and in the garage where we could go louder. I really picked up things quite quick on guitar as I had friends who had shown me some things. Joe picked up the bass pretty good as well, for beginners anyways. The idea was we would get another guy in school to get drums for Christmas…but the guy never got them!! So me and Joe kinda played by ourselves for years hoping we could get a drummer. It took us some years before we got a drummer though, so we weren’t really serious until then or at least could call ourselves serious. Sometime in 2002 I think I met Chris in Art College, myself and Joe went there also. I heard he played drums and I remember hijacking him one day when he walked into the college bar. I seem to recall I ran up to him and went “hear you play drums right?” taking him completely by surprise.
So we ended up organizing a jam together in an old school building a few months later. Me and Joe had a few songs by then I think. “We Don’t go to school” was one of them “Deaf and Blind” possibly and another song called “R.E” which turned into a song called “Terror of the Streets” and another called “The Machine” but it had no title at that time. Chris was impressed to say the least as he’d only played with ‘cover band’ esque musicians by that stage. He just was impressed someone could write something themselves and call it their own. Anyways we had to borrow amps for that jam as myself and Joe had nothing loud enough to be heard over the drums. The jam went well and we all agreed once we had our own gear we would start playing regular.
It took another while before I got a big enough amp and I actually think Joe had not got an amp at all by that stage and had to keep borrowing Chris’ cousins! We were poor and it took a chunk of my student loan to buy a Marshall 150 watt combo. Well what happened after that was we started playing together and recording tapes in Chris’ garage. But it only went on for about a year as Joe had lost interest and faith I think after that. The band disbanded and I think it was largely down to thinking we could never find other like minded individuals. About a year or so later I had contacted Chris again and we got back together playing. I roped a friend in to play bass for a bit and after some more time we coaxed Joe back. There was one other singer before him though called Reuben, but he was just a liability and not serious enough. Joe came back as a singer only and we ended up after about a year getting to the point where we could play live in front of people.
We did our first gig in the Front Page bar in Belfast. It was fucking terrifying! That was about November 2006. I don’t think we were that awful to be honest but the bass guitarist was!! as was our sound. Soon after that, the friend temporary bass player left. He was succeeded by another two guys before we ended up a three piece. Our first song was actually something called “Island of Cannibals”. Joe wrote the words and me the music. It was back in the bedroom/garage no drummer era. I think the first proper Rabid Bitch of the North song though was “We don’t go to school”. It was an idea I had on guitar, I called Joe on the phone and played it down to him to let him hear it. He loved it! Haha!
It would be interesting to hear a little about the process that led to the band name. Did you have long discussions before you ended up with Rabid Bitch Of The North? Did you want to send out a message already with the band name, or were there other intentions behind the rather unusual choice?
– Well given there was only myself and Joe when the name was formed around summer 2001, it was kind of me who came up with the name. It was two separate ideas at first and for some reason myself and Joe both wanted some kind of geographical reference in there, to highlight I think where we are from, so I said: “Why don’t we have something like ‘Wicked Witch of the West’ only change it to “of the North””? I already was thinking of Rabid Bitch so I remember talking to Joe over the internet one night after we had been discussing band names that day and typing the two ideas together. He replied back: “Is that it then?” Thinking I had decided on the name already, I replied: “Yeah alright then” and that was that.
After this, during our student years, myself and Joe were responsible for spray-painting the name on walls in Belfast. We did this because we figured like an advertising campaign if we spray painted it everywhere people would start to see the name and remember it. What actually happened when we started gigging a few years later, people thought we got our name from the graffiti that was sprayed about the place but it was actually us who did that graffiti. Joe sprayed it mostly along with an acquaintance of ours at the time. I think I only sprayed it once. Haha!
We thought the name sounded insane because it is quite long, but I think we knew it would be unique and set us apart. When we first emerged on the live scene, people seemed to like it, however I know some thought it was too long and that we were silly for keeping the name. I now know that keeping the name has been a great thing for us. No one ever forgets the name no matter how silly they think it is and it stands out a lot. Did we come up with it to set ourselves apart and send out a message? Probably. I think we wanted to say “fuck you we are a proper heavy metal band” but we were probably more focused on finding a good name, and having something that sounded aggressive because we were a little angry. We knew it was a long name and it could be bad, but we bit the bullet and went with it.
For some time, I believe you were a four piece. At least there is a clip on YouTube where you perform “We Don’t Go To School” as a quartet. What happened to your original bass player?
– Well those clips with the bass player are actually of our third bass player Tom who is on “Outta the Kennel” as well as myself playing the bass. He left the band around January 2010. By doing so, he held our progress up greatly and put us right back to square one again. I say that because we were starting to gain momentum having been out of action from the live scene for a while when we initially lost a different bass player called Stevie. Tom leaving didn’t make sense. He left when we started to deliver the goods live, which was actually something he demanded from us – but then he threw the towel in anyway because he was a coward. He really left because he found it difficult to get on with me, I don’t mind saying he was an arsehole and a smelly one at that, but I was prepared to put up with him because I wanted the band to start rolling again and I wanted to succeed and we all needed him despite his constant negativity – particularly after a few great gigs.
Finding band members in such a small place such as Belfast is hard, particularly if you play metal no one is interested in and basically go against the grain in every sense. Up until that point we had been a four piece since I put the band back together with Chris around 2005. The first incarnation was originally a three piece, myself, Joe and Chris. The second incarnation which began without Joe, started life with a temporary bassist. This bassist stayed until our first gig in 2006. He left and we managed to replace him right away with Stevie. Stevie was our longest remaining bass player. Had he not joined when he did, we may not have continued as it just seemed to be so hard to find personnel. Stevie eventually was asked to leave due to a drunken night of madness at Joe’s house but that is another story.
As there is a poster pictured in the booklet of “Outta The Kennel”, I know that you actively looked for a bass player, at least for a while. Why did you give up the search, and when did Joe decide to pick up the bass?
– We spent the best part of a year or so looking for a bass player. We auditioned a few guys but none of them were either good enough or able to understand how to operate in a band, particularly in a band that had already established their sound and songs and basically needed someone to step in, learn songs and then start gigging again. We had a stand in bassist for one gig near October 2010, Joe a few weeks before had decided to start playing bass again. The idea was when he was good enough, he would fill in the role for a while until we got someone else just to keep things a float. I never wanted him to sacrifice his great front man persona one bit so I was reluctant to accept him permanently as the bassist. However after a few gigs, I started to feel it was working. After more shows it became apparent that he could still give the same kind of singing performance and also stage presence. It just wasn’t there right away.
How much experience from playing the instrument did Joe have from before? How did it affect his stage presence having to focus on both the vocals and playing the bass?
– Joe, as I mentioned earlier, had dabbled with bass in his youth and in the early years of me and him playing together. He pretty much hadn’t played bass though in about seven years. I would honestly say he only became a real bass player whenever he needed to for the band’s sake. By that stage I knew a lot more about what a bass player should actually do in a band and was able to direct him a lot on what to do. Over that first year he got better and better and once he got into the way of thinking about what bass is meant to provide sonically, he was able to become more of a bassist rather than play it like a guitar which is how he used to play in the early days. Mind you an element of that has been kept because we are influenced by Motorhead quite a bit and Lemmy is famous for playing bass like guitar.
How it affected his stage presence initially was that it limited him, and it limited his singing as he had to concentrate on two jobs. I was worried he might have to give up too much to do both jobs. I only would accept the change in the band if he was able to do both well. However, he really found his feet after like three or four shows. And I think now he is even better. There were some bass lines we had to simplify to allow him to concentrate on the vocal but nothing major where he had to play one note all night long so he could be busy running about screaming like a banshee. Haha! As a singer only, he was able to move around a little more, but now he plays bass he still manages to make it look interesting even if he is not as animated as he once was. I think his voice does that now.
I first heard about Rabid Bitch Of The North backin in 2010 when the EP “Outta The Kennel” was released, but please fill us in on the recordings the band did prior to this release. At least there are two recordings called “Heavy Meat Sessions”. Give us a few details on these.
Okay, the “Heavy Meat Sessions” were live in Chris’ garage with vocals dubbed on after. They were just our first demos which we could give to people at gigs. They are pretty raw and frantic. That is all we had done properly at that point and the only thing of reasonable quality that we could distribute. It was born out of necessity really hence the hard fast recording method. People liked them it seemed. We spray painted every CD with our logos and burnt them onto CDR and Chris rustled up a cover or two for us. Really the idea was just to get something half decent out so we could give people an idea of what we were like. Before that, all we had made was awful cassettes recorded from a tape deck so we could listen back for fun at the songs we’d been playing a rehearsals.
According to your Facebook page, you associate yourselves with NWOBHM. I guess this apply both to the music as well as the Do it yourself-attitude
– I think we associate ourselves with the NWOBHM because NWOBHM is at the heart of the music that has inspired us the most, well for me anyways and also NWOBHM has a certain “working class” feel to it or even an element of struggle and these elements resonate with ourselves as well. The DIY thing relates to the NWOBHM also however we became DIY out of necessity as we could never afford studio time. But then I’m sure that was the case for some NWOBHM bands. Mind you I don’t know many bands that are as self-sufficient as us. I taught myself audio to get by, and we all have useful skills for artwork and Chris is a graphic designer so we pretty much have it all covered. The NWOBHM also is just an inspirational time, kind of a time we would like to have experienced, but unfortunately we were not even born.
The brand new tape, titled “Defending Two Castles” is released by Sarlacc, but apart from that you have done pretty much everything from the artwork to the production on your own. Is it a case of you preferring to have full control over your work, or would you have done things differently if you had a large budget?
– Again it was born out of necessity first, but all the perks of that self-sufficiency then include things like having full control and things like that. We were also aware that many local bands had been recorded in local small studios and that they all came out sounding the same, so we never wanted this for Rabid Bitch Of The North. We had heard stories about engineers in these studios who would pretty much try to get the sound they could capture best rather than work toward capturing the bands own natural sound. Being that Rabid Bitch prides itself on being unique and individual preserving and having our own unique sound is crucial. It’s our audio signatures.
If I had a bigger budget I would have bought some more expensive equipment that is the only thing I can think a bigger budget would have done for us. Most bands seem to save up a few thousand and get something done in a local studio and it comes out all professional and slick. Where is the fun in that? Also modern production in my opinion has deadened a lot of metal. It’s almost too good. Every European Power metal band sounds the same these days with this pristine sonic perfection production, it’s hardly Venom – “Welcome to Hell” now is it? Haha!
Many bands write the music collectively, like I think you do for the most part, but very few have more than one member writing the lyrics. Who is doing the lyrics in Rabid Bitch Of The North?
– Well we all write lyrics now. For a while it was just myself and Joe. It started that way. But later I introduced the idea to Chris and he wrote “Sisyphus”. And I think they are excellent lyrics. He has a different take on lyrics than what mine are, and now it can add another dimension in lyrical style to Rabid Bitch Of The North. Music I pretty much write most of it. Sometimes all of it, sometimes not. Sometimes I will ask the guys to contribute or sometimes Joe might have a riff and then I build the rest around it. “Sisyphus”, because Chris wrote the lyrics, I asked what he had in mind, so I built it from scratch and arranged it accordingly. It felt good doing it that way as I was able to make stuff up on the spot on the day and then we had the skeleton of the song by the end of the day. I was then able to go home and add a few things, and then the next rehearsal I would let the guys hear it.
While “Outta The Kennel” didn’t have the lyrics printed, “Defending Two Castles” has. Is it just a coincidence, or a sign that the lyrics are better written and maybe also more important to you today? Also, have the subject matters and the message changed from the material on “Outta The Kennel” to the newer songs?
– No not at all, we just didn’t want to pay for the extra printing on the in sleeve for “Outta The Kennel”. Haha! Two of us were out of work at that point so times were hard. We have a lot of songs, the lyrics vary a lot with us. The only thing I would say about the lyrics now and the lyrics then, is we might be a little more focused and have refined the style a little but we aren’t ashamed of them or think that the lyrics we have now are so much better that we can now be proud and print them for all to see.
By the way, who are you referring to as “them” in the lyrics to the last song on the tape, “Us Against Them”?
– Who are we referring to? Anyone who is opposed to us, anyone who goes against us, stands in our way, anyone who say’s we are “old hat” or tells us we won’t succeed. There were a lot of those people in the earlier years. They all seem to have faded away now though. The song stands for anyone though who has ever felt that it’s them against the world or them against a larger or greater force. A song for the underdogs perhaps? The lyrics were written mostly by a guy I knew a few years back, I give him the idea and concept and off he went and wrote “Us against them”. He wrote it thinking about Rabid Bitch, being a tight little group, or a gang, facing adversity and having backs to the wall etc. etc.
Judging from your band name, your songs, partly your lyrics, your live shows, the band pictures and so on, one could get the impression that you think metal has grown a bit too safe, mellow and widely accepted…
– Um I dunno, I think the heart of the band just believes in a purest approach and believes that some metal music is diluted from sub genres and may be the original identity the music had for itself back in the late seventies and eighties has been lost. In my experience I have met with opposition when it comes to the purest idea, people tell me to “broaden my horizons”, but fuck them, I believe in what I believe in and it’s the most important thing. It also is why Rabid Bitch is Rabid Bitch, we never changed and changed our ideas or thinking for anyone even though a few years ago playing over here people used to tell us we “should do this” and we “should do that”. No way! Staying true to yourself, even if it’s rubbish is the most important thing.
When were the songs on the new tape written? Am I right assuming that the title track and “Sisyphus” are some of your newer songs (I have never seen these mentioned in your live sets) while “Us Against Them” is an older tune?
– I think “Defending Two Castles” was written around June 2013 and ‘Sisyphus” around the same time. “Us Against Them” was written about 2010.
What did come first? The idea to record some tracks live in your rehearsal room or the idea to put out a cassette? Are you satisfied with the way those three songs turned out?
– The idea to record stuff in the rehearsal room was first, we wanted to be in a position where we could just hit record and everything could be recorded and it would be decent quality. The tape idea came around because we have an EP in the works but we wanted to knock something out quick and pluck up peoples interest and the quality was decent so we figured why not stick a cassette single out first. We are satisfied with the way it all turned out, however I played the tape at home and the quality has deteriorated substantially from the master, since it was put onto cassette format. It seems slightly faster and the guitar sounds a little strange now. Hoping the second batch rectifies this.
Listening to the three songs on the tape, it feels like you have your own thing going, even though the basis has probably been done a lot of times before. What’s the secret behind getting the traditional stuff to sound fresh and exciting?
– Well the fact that you think that is a big compliment to us. I actually know there are people out there who believe you cannot come up with original heavy metal anymore, and I mean heavy metal, not another bastard child. I have only come to realise myself that the secret ingredient is still actually a secret. But I know part of it is down to the fact that the band is made up of three different guys, three individuals who can be very unique characters in an everyday environment, not just a band environment. I’d say a large part of it is down to this as it effects your style of playing and thinking.
I also think that some of the bands that we like and are influenced by are not necessarily the bands a lot of others are influenced by, so if you take bands like that and subconsciously they are influencing your creative side then a new flavour gets produced but it is still a flavour if you know what I mean? A few other things I would say would be, we are very strict on riffs not being too similar to other people’s. I mean, if we ever hear something that we think sounds like something else we will change it. It hasn’t happened in while, but I know we have changed things so no one could accuse us of stealing a riff. We try our best to adhere to that. Another thing would be not to pay attention to what others do and how they do it from everything right down to the gear they use.
What are the pro and cons of recording live in the studio? I guess the readers can think of the most obvious ones, but there might be a few more that you need to experience to recognize…
– Well pros are, it can sound raw in a good way, and also capture a certain magic. I personally am a fan of say things like Motorhead BBC sessions which is them live in the studio. I love hearing little imperfections too in those type of recordings, it adds the human factor to it all. It is more natural to play it live rather than have everything done separate which can feel a little alien. Recording separately feels like everything you do is under a microscope and imperfections seem to be highlighted more. I guess other pros are if you nail it playing live the first time, then you have saved yourself a whole bunch of time. Probably the biggest pro for me is the sense of achievement and satisfaction and getting decent recording quality and performance while playing live.
The cons are, it is harder for everyone playing together to get it all right particularly when you have to keep making adjustments to the mix, but only after you have played the song the whole way through to try and identify what needs altered. We didn’t have a fourth man doing this for us when we recorded, so it was awkward at the best of times. Sometimes my ears would be fatigued from the actual performing duty so much so that I wouldn’t spot the mix lacking in an area until I got home and was able to check after my ears had recovered. This was very time consuming. Once we nailed a mix on the console, which took quite some time, we were able to just do solid takes over and over and over. However setting the bar high can mean you just run yourself into the ground playing the same song over and over and over trying to avoid feedback and stupid noises from getting onto the recording. It was stressful, but we knew when we cracked it, it would be worth it. Another con was winter time!!! Playing in a cold room in winter can just make you stiff and make things ten times harder. Particularly if your guitar player has a circulation problem that already affects his hands.
As I think everything sounds great and the recording adds to the uniqueness that is Rabid Bitch Of The North, is recording live something you would consider doing again? I spoke to Mike Scalzi from Slough Feg recently, and he said that he would really like to do an whole album that way, but that it probably wouldn’t sound good enough…
– Well do you think Mike would think our tape sounded okay? I know I certainly do. I have to say at this point that for some reason the transferral of the recorded audio to the tape format has definitely reduced the quality somewhat. So the actual recordings I have sound better. Anyways back to the question, would we do it again? Yes, and we are going to do it again. I can’t understand why you wouldn’t. I had people tell me we were mad doing it live. Nothing like doing things the hard way. Haha! You feel better once you bust your guts out trying to get something right. Okay seriously though, I mean look at Witchfinder General, they did those two classic albums more or less live as have others, so why abandon the notion of recording live? I find the fact bands did it like that back in the old days inspiring, they had to be good! Real good. What’s even more crazy is we don’t even have a studio, we did ours in our rehearsal room with no isolation booth or sound proofing! The videos on youtube and the pictures on our facebook show exactly where we recorded! And the environment is far from an actual room in a studio. But yet it turned out ok right? Things like that add charm to the recording I think. Unorthodox to say the least.
I’ve seen some people mentioning that they doubt that Rabid Bitch Of The North will be as good recorded in the studio as you are on stage. Do you take this as a compliment?
-Uh no, not really. Depends what they mean? Does that mean that they think what happens live cannot be captured or does that mean we are shit? We may never record in a studio for all I know, we may always do our recordings in the old Linen Mill were we rehearse, perhaps that will keep the magic alive. Perhaps it’s playing in a dirty old building with filthy toilets that adds to the tape. Haha!
What’s it like being a heavy metal-band in Belfast? How many people are you able to attract there if you play on your own, and how many decent gigs can you get in a year?
-This is a hard question, what is it like being a heavy metal band in Belfast? Well we all enjoy it, but we basically had to play in front of audiences who are more into extreme stuff and this made it difficult to emerge through all that. People didn’t know what to make of us at first, and some still don’t, but we don’t give a fuck about them. They aren’t even on the same planet as us and we feel we don’t have anything in common with them at all. Things are starting to change however with the emergence of a band like Terminus who we are friendly with and have played with a good many times. Also younger upstarts like Scimitar and just a younger audience for proper heavy metal in general seems to be growing in Belfast.
How many people can we attract? This varies in Belfast, you could play one night and have 30-40 people there, and then you could play another night and have 100 people. There seems to be more interest in us now and it is amazing!!! Really overwhelming as people are getting really supportive toward us and kind. Before when we were starting out, people just thought we were some loser hard rock band pedaling “weak” outdated hard rock, at least that is certainly the opinion they gave us. Belfast could have two gigs on in the same night and basically our gig attendance can be affected by this depending on what people want to go and see. I would say all the local bands have to deal with this. Or even if there was a gig the night before in Belfast, people aren’t willing to go out two nights in a row anymore because nights out are expensive. I understand this completely, not everyone can afford to do what they want all the time.
You recently had a launch party for “Defending Two Castles”, but apparently there were no tapes to launch. Bad timing, or just an excuse to get a gig and a decent party?
– Not our fault. The record label from what I have been told said to us we would have them on time. That of course did not happen and we nearly had to go and collect them ourselves on the day of the launch gig which would have been a nightmare given Dublin is 100miles away from Belfast. It turned out the tapes hadn’t even arrived in Ireland so we were never going to have them for the show. It took another week and a half before we saw tapes. A little embarrassing, but we’ve learned something from it.
I’ve heard about a release of a 10” inch EP. Will this be your next release? Who will release it and which songs will it include? If this release materializes, it will be your first release on vinyl. Is format irrelevant to you, or are you vinyl fanatics?
– The songs are going to be “God of Punishment”, “Trapped in 1999”, “You’re Misery”, “Tripods” and “Green Eyes of Envy”. We don’t know who will release it, probably ourselves I think. It will be our first vinyl. Format is irrelevant for me yes, Joe and Chris I am not sure what they think. I personally don’t like how vinyl and tape deteriorate so this makes them second choice to me personally. However, I know the metal heads love vinyl and tape as a second choice so we have chosen these formats so people who prefer them will want our releases. I don’t think it should matter as it should be the music that matters in my opinion.
How far have you come thinking about a full length release? Do you have enough material that you feel are good enough to be included on your first album? Will any of your previously recorded material feature?
– Probably after we put out our next release we will do an album. Maybe next year. We have no shortage of material. I have a back catalogue of ideas and we also have early stuff we know is good enough to revamp into better songs (in our opinion anyways). The song “Trapped in 1999” is a song I wrote in my garage before I could barely play guitar would you believe. It wasn’t called that back then but the riffs were something we often remembered as being good so one day we revamped it and now we have “Trapped in 1999” which people seem to enjoy live. Some stuff I wrote in the past I often wonder how the hell I did it because I didn’t have the understanding that I do now, and I wonder how I made some things as intricate. There is a song called “Terror of the Street ” that we will revamp at some point, probably only the lyrics to be honest as the music is outstanding. I just didn’t have the sounds back then to do it justice.
On YouTube you can find footage from a show at Into The Void with you performing songs like “Trapped In 1999” and “Your Misery”, “God Of Punishment”, “Bitter Taste”, “Demon Mind” and “Green Eyes”. Will any of these songs be considered for future releases, and do you view some of them as definite works of the past?
– No, most of these songs are songs that are currently in our set. We just haven’t got around to releasing them yet. “Demon Mind” was a song co-written by myself and Reverend Nice of Deep Switch fame, he helped arrange it a little and wrote the bass for it based on my guitar. I was an email friend with him for a while, and he also helped teach me some audio too. “Bitter Taste” we may not have played in a while but it’s not a work of the past. It’s a work from a transitional perhaps, but I wouldn’t say it was being left in the past. “Punishment” “Trapped” and “Misery” are all favourites in our set currently. These three are going to feature in the future five track EP which will be released on ten inch vinyl as you already mentioned. Drums have already been recorded for this EP. I just need to crack a guitar sound I am happy to use for it because we are not doing this live with everyone playing together. I have been buying lots and lots of gear recently and experimenting!! There is a room in my house filled with stuff now, it’s getting hard to move in there. Haha!