Western Australian thrashers Psychonaut came out of nowhere (at least in our ignorant, sheltered world at MetalTalk HQ) a couple of months ago with an album – the superb 'Shock 'Em Dead' – that has had us rocking like hurricanes from the very first moment it kicked its way into our ears, so we thought an interview would be well in order. Luckily so did the band, so here we all are (at least here MetalTalk is, with Psychonaut driving force Mark De Vattimo) ready to chew the fat about, well, anything really…
Mark - What initially inspired you to form a band like Psychonaut?
"Around 1998 when I was going out watching local Metal bands, as cool and great as they were, the majority were just playing what was current at the time. I wanted to put together a band that I wanted to hear and see. Kiss meets Sabbath meets W.A.S.P. Also, I got sick of the grunge/Korn movement at the time. To me, that wasn't Heavy Metal!"
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This clearly is a man we can do business with. The songs on the album have a very strong concept, lyrically, being mainly concerned with sci-fi, horror and films portraying same... What comes first, the riff or the lyric concept? Does a riff come into your head that suggests something like 'Planet Of The Apes' to you, or is it the other way around?
"It just happens. PotA was based around the riffs. At the time of writing (circa 2002) I was getting right into the POTA series of films and thought it'd be great to write about the films. The lyrics are ripped straight out of the scripts. There is a part in the lyrics towards the end of the song where I was stuck for some lines. I spotted the POTA VHS box set in a cabinet and there it was: "escape from the... and beneath the... battle for the... conquest of the...' I was listening to Cathedral a lot back then and they had Urko Rides. Arch Enemy also had Beast Of Man. These songs were about characters from POTA so I stole their idea!"
So where does a song like 'Lemmy Von Frankenstein' even come from? I'm having trouble remembering a film of the same name...
"I'm a huge fan of Peter Cushing as the Baron Von Frankenstein from the Hammer films - as well as being a massive Motorhead fan - so I thought I'd put Lemmy in the baron's shoes. He builds a woman, an angry mob gets wind of it, they storm his castle/lab, and they destroy it. Lemmy lives on though (he'll be in a sequel on the next album). I love popular culture references in songs. 'Shock 'Em Dead!' has quite a few of them sprinkled throughout the album. I'm working on a new song called 'Iommi World'. It's about future scientists cloning an army of Iommis from his long frozen fingertips."
Somehow, in the world you're sucking us into, that seems like a perfectly feasible concept. But let's move away from lyrics and song concepts for a minute or two. You're a multi-awarded guitarist, yet Psychonaut has a very loose sound – in fact almost the antithesis of what you'd expect from a 'best guitarist' award winner – do you consciously avoid that precise, shredmeister sound or is Psychonaut just an outlet for your inner filth hound?
"I think those awards were more a 'popularity contest'. I was in three bands for the year I won the first award (Psychonaut, Voyager, Furor) and played in all three on at the awards night. I received the award during the Furor's set and completely screwed up the next song. I exclaimed: "Here, take it back!"
"I can bullshit my way through most guitar styles but to master one of them is the hard part. Play what you want, how you want. Seriously though, I'm not one to play precise and thrash around. Scales belong on fish. Mike Kaval, the other Psychonaut guitarist, is much more a precise shredder. I'm a Blackmore to his Laiho. Yes, it's an outlet to my inner filth hound. I like 'ugly guitar' as opposed to 'handsome' guitar. Having said that, shredding rules!"
It does indeed. But it's a quite serious pursuit. Given that a lot of your lyrics are humorous, are you wary of being labelled a 'comedy metal' band or are you not overly worried, as long as people enjoy the music?
"Comedy Metal is Tenacious D and Steel Panther. We're not too worried about what humans think about us as long as they can relate to the music and lyrics and dig the concept of Psychonaut. We're just giving back to the metal world what we took out of it. Entertainment."
I guess at the end of the day that's what it should all be about. Old fashioned as it may sound, popular music is all about entertaining folks. Talking of which, and as an adjunct to that last question, how has the new album been received?
"So far it's been great and as expected. The reviews are honest and well thought out. You can tell when a reviewer has actually heard and listened to the album because they pick up different references and ideas. We've had a sudden burst of fan mail and even at our live shows we are seeing more and more people mouthing the words as we play. That's a good thing because their lips keep my memory refreshed while I'm barking in the mic."
Ah yes, the live experience. Much touring on the cards?
"Now that we have the album under our belts and it's out in the real world, we are formulating some tours. For starters, Eastern Australia, Indonesia, Cambodia and even Japan are in the works. It takes time and money and the logistics are always tricky."
Indeed they are. Damn you logistics! Anything else you'd like the readers of MetalTalk to know about?
"A W.A.S.P quote we live by: The Gods you worship are Steel. At the altar of Rock n'Roll you kneel!"
Wise words indeed from the blessed Blackie... and something for you to think about as you make your way to the next Psychonaut live exposition – see you there!
More Scott Adams right here